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:
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.
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 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.
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!