Egg Collection – Week 3

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

May 6 2016

Ok … Sometimes Mother Nature throws us a curve and I swear wants to test our fortitude … and that’s exactly what continued week 3 of our muskie trapnetting/egg collection program on G Pool! As outlined last week, in order to maximize our staffing resources and net-fishing time, we conducted only 2 net check days this week instead of 4. Although this was unorthodox – the extremely poor catches of most other species, the low water temps and with the lack of any muskie, we felt the move was warranted.

With all this in mind, our report this week is rather short – so you’ll see more photos than text.

On Tuesday we were encouraged by the water temps as they had finally risen to above the single digit range and were now into the high 10’s and low 11’s, but unfortunately no muskie were found. A couple nets had real good catches while others were still well below par. The highlight of the day was seeing a beautiful mature bald eagle take off from a big pine near  one of our net sights … as if watching over it while we weren’t there.

That same day, we did catch some outstanding channel catfish at one net in G Pool – including this one with the unusual white markings.

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Aaron Law of the Aurora District Office above and Melanie Shapiera of Aurora below, each with their own channel cats

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We ended the week on Thursday with temps warming slightly but still not in the low –mid teens.  With today’s Friday) air temp already at 22 and sunny – and even warmer weather forecast for the weekend, we are very optimistic about our chances at seeing muskie in week 4. Mark Newell … the ace hatchery manager at Fleming College who has been so instrumental in the success and growth of the muskie stocking program, reminds us that, “In 2014, it was a late start and we got eggs May 12, 13 and 15 … and that all ended up good.”

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MNRF Conservation Officer Intern Michael Evers of Aurora District was able to gain some valuable hands on experience with the crew on Thursday and holds one of several nice largemouth bass caught and released from the trap nets. Below Graham Findlay of Midhurst with a nice smallmouth

 

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Eva Bobak of the Aurora MNRF office  with a good sized smallmouth bass, while Brent Shirley (Midhurst) fills in the data collection sheets

 

 

 

One constant with this muskie netting program is a steady number of northern map turtles of various sizes that we see and catch. Below are Aaron and Mel – one with the turtle and another with a largemouth bass. I trust I don’t have to explain which is which.

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This Sunday, May 8th …  Melanie and I will open nets … and crews will be fishing them for the full four days all of next week. Expectations are high for week 4 so we hope this time next week the Muskie Trapnetting  Update will be full of great news.

Have a great Mother’s Day Weekend!

 

Egg Collection – Week 2

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

April 29th

Oh my! Another rather uneventful week on the Pool.  Much to our dismay, the weather continues to play havoc with our efforts to not only collect muskie eggs, but to even capture any muskie in our nets. If you recall from Update 1, we began our program on a real high note Monday April 18th and set our six trap nets during a 23 C heat wave as water temperatures were on the rise. Jump forward just one week though, and our dedicated MNRF crew along with a real trooper – Jim Crocker of the Orillia Fish and Game club, checked nets in a cold and blustery snow storm that more or less set the stage for the rest of the week.

Here volunteer Jim Crocker makes a quick count of the fish he just scooped from the trap net before returning them to the lake. Some days this job means crews are challenged by what Mother Nature can throw at them, but invariably it’s a day well spent and one for the memory books.

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On Tuesday we had strong winds forecasted, so had to cancel  the day. We hoped a 48 hour set would increase our catch rates for Wednesday, but that really didn’t materialize except for an outstanding largemouth bass catch in one of our Little Lake sets that we affectionately call ‘stumpy’ . It is in an area is loaded with stumps and has accounted for many muskie over the last few years

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Brianne Brothers (left) and Kate Gee show off some beautiful largemouth bass from our ol’ stumpy set 

 

 

 

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Brent with a nice smallmouth bass and Brianne with her largemouth
 

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A net full of largemouth is never anything to be too upset about as long as they’re all released in great shape says Wil – the self- diagnosed bass-a holic from Aurora District. He is flanked from behind  by Brent (left) and Steven Sucharzewski of Midhurst

 

 

 

Interestingly enough, despite the low single digit temperatures that prevailed for most of the week, water temps stayed in the 8C range all week.  Other years we have caught muskie during these low temps, but the big difference those years was usually that the barometer was rising steadily, and so too were water and air temps.

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One of the highlights for the current Muskie netting crew is having the chance to be re-acquainted with former members  who were so instrumental in previous years. This was the case on Wednesday when Brent Shirley from Midhurst welcomed back Emily Funnell from Aurora District – who is now a biologist working on many Species At Risk Files for her district. Here Emily proudly hold a large Northern Map Turtle – A “Species of Special Concern” that was caught and released unharmed from one of our nets.

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A familiar face for many Muskies Canada members … Aurora District’s own Gabby Gilchrist shows one of several small (spawned out) northern pike caught from the trap nets this week. “At least it’s an esocid” she said!

As we head into week three of this program the MNRF crews from Midhurst and Aurora had to discuss their plan of attack and contemplate what the weather forecast would mean for the week. To compound their efforts, a 3rd week of netting looks to be not much better than the first two weeks.

Planning for Week 3:

As you can see the lows at night are still predicted to be in the single digits and even the day time highs remain well below seasonal norm. The chances therefore that we begin to see water temps rise over and above single digits does not look great. With this in mind, for week three, Kate and Wil will be begin by opening the nets on Sunday as usual, however from there crews will only be checking nets every other day. This will not lessen our ability to catch as many muskie as we normally would with 24 hour sets, however will maximize our resources as we prepare for full out success the following week and … if need be, perhaps even consider the week after.

So with just two days on the water checking nets in week 3 (Tuesday and Thursday … Fridays we never fish nets as the Health Lab is unable to accept eggs for disease testing), I’m sure you can appreciate the challenges we’ve had juggling schedules – both with MNRF staff and the dedicated volunteers from Muskies Canada and Orillia Fish and Game. Right now, we’ve made some changes, contacted all the players and are set to go … still hoping that in Week 3 that the weatherman will be wrong and water temps begin to rise steadily so that those mighty G Pool muskellunge begin to grace our presence once again.

PS:  A Muskie Related Highlight:

Just to end this somber update on a high note, on Thursday April 28th, we had our 2nd night of electro fishing the Holland River. On Wednesday, we saw the typical warm water species associated with this river. It was a long and very cold night – where landing nets actually froze to the metal guard rails when the crew was done at 2:00am.  On Thursday things heated up – many more fish were seen, including one very nice looking muskie that was just out of reach of our anodes (that send the electrical current into the water) and subsequently did not entertain being captured by our landing nets. This muskie was in the meter long range and was clearly seen and identified by myself and two other crew mates.   In the same general area another ‘possible-likely’ smaller muskie was seen, however our crew was not as confident as the first one.  None the less, it was an exciting way to end the night and our week on the water.

Thanks everyone for your patience and stay tuned for another report this same time next week.

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We sure don’t get many frogs in our nets, let alone big bubba’s like this seldom-seen brown phased bullfrog.  Brent was tempted to give this one a big kiss in hopes that it would turn into the big beautiful muskie princess that he’s only been dreaming about.

 

Spring Egg Collection – Week 1

Every year  the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry conducts a spring egg collection in and around the Gloucester pool.  Trap nets are set to capture ripe females and males to provide eggs and milt. The fertilized eggs then go to Fleming College and two Ministry hatcheries to provide the fingerlings that will be raised and released in October for the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Project.

These mini-reports will give you an idea of how the work is progressing as well as a feel for what it’s like to work on the front lines with experienced MNRF staff.

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

Well week one is behind us and another exciting muskie trapnetting and hopefully another successful egg collection season is upon us. Also, back by popular demand, are these little end of week updates from our time on the water.
We deployed six trap nets on Monday April 18th 2016. This is a full week earlier than last year, when they were set Monday April 27th. With early ice out and incredibly warm temps for 4 full days prior to the 18th, we reckoned things could happen sooner than later so instead of taking any chances and missing an early opportunity at collecting eggs, we anxiously set the nets despite less than ideal water temps that were hovering just below the 7C mark.

That Monday though, air temps were 23C … and it was a hot sweaty deal for the crews from Midhurst and Aurora District as they made sure each net was perfect for fishing … and checking come Tuesday morning.Tuesday morning came … and despite the warm air temps the previous day, water temps remained cool. Ideally we’d like to see over 8 before we see much in the way of ripe muskie. We weren’t there yet … and neither were the muskie even present in our nets, let alone ripe. In fact, we saw extremely low catches all around in all of our nets that first day and subsequently the same could be said for the remainder of the week.

On Wednesday afternoon, after 2 days of zero catch at one particular set, the MNRF crew of Brent Shirley, Kate Gee and myself, elected to move that net 100 metres away to an area where last year’s pencil reeds would not impair the effectiveness of the main lead – which draws the fish into our nets. This decision was not taken lightly as during our first couple years for this program we caught A LOT of muskie here … and it has saved our bacon many times with successful egg collections. As Muskie anglers will appreciate though, lakes and conditions change and the amount of pencil reeds here has become so great, that proper net sets are just no longer feasible. We set the new ‘hot spot’ along the edge of this significant pencil reed bed … and have high hopes for success.

Thursday, we welcomed our first Muskies Canada volunteer … Dave Cunningham of Ajax who is with the Toronto chapter. He was a fine rep for MC and enthusiastically assisted the MNRF crew of Brent and Carolyn Hann. Our nets were slightly more productive than earlier in the week … and a good variety of species were caught, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, brown bullhead, northern pike, yellow perch, rock bass, black crappie and a few northern map turtles. After checking the nets, they were all closed off – so as to not fish Friday or Saturday (the health lab at Guelph University cannot accept samples for disease testing on Fridays). Encouraging news on Thursday afternoon was that water temps were beginning to rise as they pushed the 8.5C mark in several areas. This Sunday Kate and Brent from Midhurst will zip up to G Pool and snip open the funnels .. allowing them once again to fish – and hopefully catch muskie for week two.

On a side note, it was great to welcome long time MC member (and member of our Lake Simcoe Fisheries Stakeholder Committee) Jim Kelly to our electro fishing night on Wed April 20. Jim joined a couple of other volunteers from Ontario Streams and the Aurora Bassmasters as they helped MNRF staff electro-fish the Pefferlaw River. The primary goal of the evening was to monitor the walleye run … and of course to keep our eyes open for muskie. The mightiest of freshwater predator fish was not found, but we did capture 9 beautiful big walleye that were sampled, tagged and released. A couple of those were recaps from previous years … so that was interesting. Of interest to MC members as well no doubt, was an earlier in-the-week electro fishing exercise by MNRF and MOECC staff on the Talbot River when a total of 6 beautiful muskie were captured sampled and tagged. Five of those were ‘new’ fish, but one had a prior record … captured last year and tagged by our crew. As you may recall, those fish all turned out to have Kawartha strain genetics – not those of our stocked Georgian Bay Strain. We’ll see what DNA results say about the 2016 catch.

Unfortunately … early weather predictions for week two on G Pool are not the greatest … with even a touch of snow flurries forecast. We’ll cross our fingers though and hope for the best and we’ll happily report our findings to you a week from today. We’ll begin the week with MC volunteer Jim Crocker who will join MNRF staff Brent and Carloyn.

Have a great weekend everyone … and happy trout opener.

I’m sure I’ll see the usual friendly MC volunteers tomorrow at the annual Huck Finn Kids Fishing event in Uxbridge.

 

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The Wednesday night electro fishing crew with an average sized walleye sampled tagged and released from the Pefferlaw River. From left to right: MNRF biologist Adam Challice, former MNRF biologist Scott McGill, MC member Jim Kelly and Aurora Bassmaster Des Barnes.

 

 

Northern Map Turtles of various sizes and ages are a common by catch … and are always found in great shape and happily released … but sometimes they do become the centre of attention and pose for a couple of photos first. Here Kate Gee (left) and Brent Shirley display these species of special concern on day two of the program.

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Muskies Canada volunteer Dave Cunningham left holding a nice smallmouth bass, with MNRF  biologists Carolyn Hann right and Brent Shirley in background.trapnetting_002

Brewer Park Project Wins Prestigious National Conservation Award

OTTAWA, ON, Thursday, February 18, 2016Brewer Park Pond Restoration Project has received the Top Canadian Fishing Industry Conservation Project Award for 2015. This award, presented at the Spring Fishing and Boat Show at the International Centre in Mississauga, ON is determined by a vote of the members of the Canadian Angling Hall of Fame.

Award
2015 Conservation Award

For Muskies Canada (Ottawa Chapter) and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA), this is the second year in a row where one of their partnership projects has received recognition. In 2014, the partners were recognized for work to create nursery and feeding habitat for fish along the Jock River in Richmond.

“The Brewer Park Pond Project was a particularly exciting project,” says Jennifer Lamoureux, RVCA Aquatic Fish Habitat Biologist. “Rarely is there a chance to have such significant impact on habitat in the heart of the city.”

Work began in fall 2014 to return the landlocked Brewer Park Pond, a former artificial swimming hole from the 1960s, back into a naturally functioning habitat connected to the Rideau River. Project partners looked to increase overall biodiversity of the pond with shoreline plantings, breeding bird habitat, amphibian habitat, and prime areas for spawning, nursery, rearing and feeding habitat for local fish species found in the Rideau all year round.

“It’s pretty special for a city to have northern pike and muskellunge in their downtown waterways,” said Peter Levick, President of Muskies Canada. “We worked for many years to support a project of this importance in an urban setting and we are delighted with the partnership that made it possible.”

The project brings biodiversity to the heart of the city with new and improved natural habitat for all sorts of aquatic species and improved habitat for shoreline animals.

“Extensive work was done to remove soil and contour the pond to make it a more useful and diverse fish habitat,” commented Mrs. Lamoureux who oversaw the project. “But a great deal of planning went in to optimizing the changes so that many different species — including birds, turtles and frogs, would benefit from the restoration.”

“This work is only made possible thanks to the many partners,” acknowledged Mr. Levick — a sentiment quickly reiterated by Mrs. Lamoureux. “Without the involvement of many, we couldn’t get this sort of work done. We’ve had great interest and support and needless to say, we’ll be looking for another project in the future.”

This award was accepted on behalf of Richcraft, Minto, the City of Ottawa, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Muskies Canada, the Institute of Environmental Science at Carleton University, and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. Special thanks goes out to the Ottawa South Community Association and the many community volunteers who assisted with tree and shrub planting.

Project Highlights:
16,000 square metres of new, functioning wetland and fish habitat in the heart of the City of Ottawa
1,000 truckloads of soil removed to contour pond into more productive habitat
1,600 trees, shrubs and aquatic plants planted in and around the pond by 120 community volunteers
8 weeks of construction from October to December 2014
basking logs, root wads and log piles installed as habitat for turtles, fish, amphibians

Photo available upon request. Contact diane.downey@rvca.ca

For more information contact:

Jennifer Lamoureux
Aquatic and Fish Habitat Biologist, RVCA
613-692-3571 Ext 1108
jennifer.lamoureux@rvca.ca

The Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Project

Introduction

Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy; “muskie”) are native to Lake Simcoe and were once quite common.  Lake Simcoe had a commercial fishery for muskie in the 1800s, which closed in 1904.  The muskie population started to decline in the 1930s due to a number of factors, including harvest, habitat loss, and changes to the Lake Simcoe fish communities.  The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and forestry (MNRF) socked the lake with fry and fingerlings during 1936 0 1969.  The brood stock was taken from the Kawartha Lakes and this introduction proved unsuccessful, possibly because this strain was not able to co-exist with northern pike.   The recreational fishery for muskie on Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching closed in 2005.

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Brent Shirley from MNRF Midhurst District (left) and Wil Wegman from MNRF Aurora District with one of the muskie from Gloucester pool used for egg collections in the spring of 2015

By the early 2000s, a feasibility study and a habitat inventory determined that restoring the native muskie fishery to Lake Simcoe was a feasible fisheries management goal.  The study noted that efforts towards habitat restoration include broader benefits for the entire aquatic community.

Why Stock Muskie?

Muskie are a highly prized game fish.  They were once a significant member of the native fish community in Lake Simcoe and the goal is to make that happen once again.  The objective of the Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Project (LSMRP) is to re-establish a self-sustaining muskie population which does not rely on continuous stocking efforts.   To reach this objective, MNRF is stocking muskie to facilitate natural reproduction, evaluating the muskie population in Lake Simcoe through time, and enhancing muskie spawning and nursery habitats.  The Georgian Bay strain, which utilize similar spawning habitats and co-exist with northern pike, is seen to be a goo fit for Lake Simcoe stocking.  Although other populations around Lake Simcoe were tested for genetics, Gloucester Pool (near Port Severn) was the lake chosen as the most feasible source of Georgian Bay strain muskie for egg collections.

Muskie Stocking

The LSMRP began in 2005 and continues through to 2015 with support of key partners including Muskies Canada, Fleming College, Orillia Fish and Game Club and the Ontario Federation of anglers and Hunters.  During the fall of 2015, approximately 4,000 muskie were stocked; more than in any other year previously.  this brings the total number of young, hatchery-raised muskie fall fingerlings into Lake Simcoe through the LSMRP at 15,673.  Locations for the 2015 stocking included: Barnstable Bay, Talbot River, Talbot River mouth area, south side of Georgina Island, Cook’s Bay east and Cook’s Bay west.

Raising Muskie

Typically, there are two hatcheries where the fish are raised -= Fleming College in Lindsay and MNRF’s Blue Jay Creek on Manitoulin Island.  However, one of the key reasons we were able to stock more muskie in 2015 was the addition of MNRF’s Harwood Fish Culture Station.  Staff here offered to raise 700 surplus muskies (from Fleming College) and they did a great job raising these fish which contributed to the overall total stocked.  All three hatcheries experienced excellent success.  Muskie raised in these hatcheries are marked with Coded-Wire Tags.  If encountered during monitoring efforts, these Lake Simcoe muskie can be scanned with a device by MNRF staff that tells them if the muskie is stocked or or natural origin.  Genetic tests will also confirm their origin.

2015 Egg Collection

The spring eff collection on Gloucester Pool in 2015 was extremely successful.  Staff from MNRG’s Aurora and Midhurst Districts (both are responsible for managing Lake Simcoe) combined efforts once again to set six trap nets to capture muskie for the egg collection.  Staff captured 11 muskies and enough eggs were collected (~60,000 eggs) to fill both hatcheries to capacity.  All muskie captured in the nets are quickly sampled (measured, scales and spine taken for aging) and then tagged before they are carefully live released.

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Of course other species of fish are captured in the trap nets as well and staff record their numbers before they are live released. Below are the results of the bi-catch for both 2014 and 2015

Species 2014 2015
Yellow Perch 71 21
Rock Bass 77 199
Pumpkinseed Sunfish 221 239
Bluegill Sunfish 6 22
Black Crappie 198 210
Northern Pike 150 249
Longnosed Gar 4 57
Common Carp 2 8
Brown Bullhead 1,195 1,106
Channel Catfish 3 14
Smallmouth Bass 83 132
Largemouth Bass 115 216
Walleye 0 216
Round Goby 1 0
White Sucker 1 0
Northern Map Turtle 12 26
Stinkpot (Musk) Turtle 1 3
Bowfin 7 19
Total 2,050 2,509

Total 2,050 2,509

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Muskies Canada began an Adopt A Muskie Program in 2015 that allows donors to pledge $20.00 to help pay for the expenses of raising these your fish.

During the course of the year staff from all three hatcheries network regularly with one another, which helps maximize their efforts to raise healthy young muskie.  This year, Mark Newell, the manager of the Fleming Hatchery even developed a Facebook page set up for stakeholders and the public to follow the process in his hatchery of raising muskie from eggs to 7-12 inch fall fingerlings.  Muskies Canada began an Adopt A Muskie Program in 2015 that allows donors to pledge $20.00 to help pay for the expenses of raising these your fish. To learn how you can adopt your own muskie visit:  Adopt A Muskie

Notables

  • Over the years, lessons learned from the hatcheries help build a strong science-based approach to wild muskie rearing for the Province
  • Muskie eggs, feeder fish, and a small percentage of fingerlings are tested annually for diseases including Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS). Once again, all fish came back disease free in 2015
  • In November, 2011 the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Project was selected as the winner of the Canadian Fishing Hall of Fame, Conservation Award

Lake Simcoe Muskie Monitoring

MNRF has several ongoing monitoring and habitat enhancement programs in place through Aurora District and Lake Simcoe Fisheries Assessment Unit.

Prior to 2014, 1998 was the last year MNRF caught and sampled a muskie on Lake Simcoe.  In the spring of 2014 however, MNRF utilized an electro-fishing boat to target historical known spawning areas and captured, sampled, tagged and released five muskie.  DNA testing afterwards proved these fish were of Kawartha lakes strain – not the stocked Georgian Bay strain.  These individual fish likely came through the Trent System but were obviously thriving in Simcoe.  During the spring of 2015, three additional muskie were caught electro-fishing, but these to were of Kawartha origin.

Over time, MNRF has documented some anecdotal evidence of the occasional muskie catch from anglers who inadvertently caught (and released) muskie when targeting other species.  For example in 2015, a bass angler in Cook’s Bay caught and released a muskie.  This location is on the opposite end of the lake from where the Kawartha Lakes strain muskie were sampled.  Between this sighting and others that have been reported, there is a possibility that this elusive fish of the Lake Simcoe or Georgian Bay strain could be surviving in Lake Simcoe one again.

In 2016 MNRF staff and partners look forward to another successful year for the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program. Until then a BIG thank you to all the organizations who have supported this project over the years:

• Muskies Canada

• Fleming College

• Orillia Fish and Game Club

• Twin Lakes Conservation Club

• Lafontaine Fish and Game Club

• North Simcoe Hunters and Anglers

• Georgian Bay Hunters and Anglers

• Georgian Bay Bassmasters

• Gloucester Pool Cottage Association

• The Sexsmith family

• Ontario Streams

• Toronto Region Conservation Authority

• Department of Fisheries and Oceans

• Aurora Bassmasters

• Environment Canada

• Wisconsin DNR

• Midhurst District (MNRF)

• Aurora District (MNRF)

• Upper Great Lakes Management Unit (MNRF)

• MNRF Fish Policy Section

• Blue Jay Creek Fish Hatchery (MNRF)

• Harwood Fish Culture Station (MNRF)

• Lake Simcoe Fisheries Assessment Unit (MNRF)

• …AND OTHERS!

Habitat Restoration – Jock River

Jock River Fish Habitat Embayment Creation Project

The Jock River is the largest tributary of the Rideau system and is habitat for Muskies. The challenge for rivers and streams in urban areas is that they become built-up, straightened out and the shorelines are degraded through development pressure. Our partner, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority owns land on the Jock in the Village of Richmond which is used as a conservation area and access to the river. There is a natural ditch on the site which floods in the spring and then dries up when the water levels go back to normal. This is a problem for spawning Muskies in the river.

RVCA together with a group of partners has created a new fish embayment on their site which will greatly enhance spawning and nursery habitat for our favourite fish. The Ottawa chapter, investing and working through our new Muskies Canada Foundation, has put $5000 into this important project. Two other fishing organizations also contributed and we were successful in leveraging that and received a major federal grant under the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnership Program.

Digging out the Embayment
Digging out the Embayment

This project has created 1000 square meters of new spawning habitat and 100 meters of new re-naturalized shoreline. 102 truckloads of fill were removed to dig out the embayment to the appropriate depth to support year-round use. Trees and stumps were added to create more complex underwater structure, shelter for small fish and fry. The wood is also important for Muskies to spawn effectively. The embayment has been designed and built to help support a diversity of insects and fish which are part of what’s necessary for truly good habitat for young Muskies.

Rolling out the matting to stabilize the new shoreline
Rolling out the matting to stabilize the new shoreline
Planting native plants and shrubs on the future shore
Planting native plants and shrubs on the future shore
Putting in structure (trees and stumps) to enhance the habitat for small fry
Putting in structure (trees and stumps) to enhance the habitat for small fry

Part of our contribution was in volunteer support. It was very rewarding to go to the site when the work was underway and assist with preparing and replanting the new shoreline(see photos). It was a great feeling after our work to watch the dyke being breached to let the river flow into the new embayment. It was like the feeling you get when you release a Muskie, knowing that you’ve done something good that will support future sustainability for those fish we care so much about.

Brewer Pond Rehabilitation Project

Enhancing Muskie Habitat in Ottawa:

This fall, we’ve been preparing better breeding sites for our Muskies. The Ottawa Chapter of Muskies Canada has partnered with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) to create two new breeding and nursery areas. The shovels and dump trucks have been busy re-working the landscape of the Rideau and Jock Rivers. This will offset lost habitat and enhance the shoreline to be better for Muskellunge.

Brewer Park Pond Restoration Project: 

Brewer Pond
Brewer Pond before restoration project

Back in the ‘60s, a swimming pond was created on the shores of the Rideau River in downtown Ottawa. This pond never worked very well for swimming and became an algae pit and fish trap. It would flood in the spring and gradually de-oxygenate over the summer. It had no natural connection with the river.

The federal Fisheries Act required that developers damaging fish habitat in their projects must offset that damage with a “make-good” initiative of equivalent size in the same region. Two developers, Richcraft and Minto are required to install storm water retention ponds in proposed development sites elsewhere in Ottawa, which will affect a creek. Their “ make-good”  is to fund this project, which will ultimately cost about $1 million. RVCA is the authority for the Rideau River and administered this “make-good” consideration to allow the Brewer Park Pond to be re-connected with the river. While this seems very logical, it was a complex and challenging project that took almost two decades to make happen.

Ottawa Chapter member Hedrik Wachelka was tireless in his work on this initiative. Slowly, after many years, countless meetings and a few near successes and setbacks, Hedrik was able to see his project get underway this fall.

Once the project is completed, monitoring will be very important to see if the fish will use this new feature. Every spring this is a fast-flowing part of the Rideau River with high water levels. The site constraints required a deep-water connection between river and the new pond, which will be achieved with a big culvert. This approach is very innovative but there are no real precedents to help us know how fish will use this new structure. There is a concern among several of the partners, including Muskies Canada and Carleton that this connection may inhibit Muskies from using the culvert to move in and out.

Calvert that will re-connect the pond to the main river
Culvert that will re-connect the pond to the main river

The Ottawa Chapter, with help from the Becker Foundation, is working with Carleton University to monitor Esox movement in the general area of the project. We need to see if Muskies will use this new wetland feature. The chapter has purchased the tags and has helped with the electrofishing and tagging process, as well as the ongoing monitoring. 20 Pike and 20 Muskies have been tagged and are being monitored. The work on this began last year and will need to be ongoing for the next two years. Due to project delays there may be a need to re-tag fish to ensure that the research can be completed post construction.

Heavy equipment
Heavy equipment digging out the pond

Heavy equipment has been working to dig out the new pond. This is an enormous task because the old pond was 1.5 meters higher than the mean river level. The excavation work is removing hundreds of truckloads of earth to dig the pond down deep enough to allow a connection that will not only re-connect with the river but that won’t freeze in the winter. The top layer of mud that was rich in aquatic plant seeds is being replaced when the pond is fully excavated to help aquatic vegetation regenerate quickly next spring.

Sub-surface structure (tree stumps and log piles) will enhance this nursery habitat for small fish. To make it work for Muskies, we need to also ensure there is a full range of aquatic insects and other small fish which hatchling Muskies will be able to feed on as they start to grow.

Sub-surface structure used to enhance the habitat
Sub-surface structure used to enhance the habitat
Brewer Pond Site Plan
Brewer Pond Site Plan

This is an innovative and exciting project. The Ottawa chapter is grateful for the support of partners RVCA, Richcraft, Minto, Carleton U., Ministry of Natural Resources, DFO, City of Ottawa, and the Ottawa South Community Association.

Together we have finally done it!