It’s open season on the water in many lakes across Alberta, with April 1 marking the official start of the province’s 2017 sport fishing season.
This year will look a little different for anglers in the Lakeland area, after the province announced four more lakes within the MD of Bonnyville are now open for harvesting.
Retention of walleye is now permitted in Bourque Lake and Hilda Lake, while Manatokan and Bangs Lake are both open for the retention of Pike.
Previously, all four lakes held a catch and release policy to their respective fish, in order to build up the species’ population in the lake.
However, in some cases, this can do more harm than good, explained Gordon Porier, president of Alberta Fish and Game Association and past president of the Beaver River Fish and Game Association.
“What happens when they close one species for retention in a lake, it doesn‘t matter what size of lake… that species becomes the No. 1 population in the lake, and the No. 1 predator. It eats all of the small fish and eventually they eat themselves out of house and home.”
The four local lakes are officially open for the season starting May 15.
Porier described the opening of the lakes as a “step in the right direction,” and something the Alberta Fish and Game Association has been striving for.
“All of these are steps in the right direction to get balanced populations, which should benefit both the fish population and the anglers in the area,” noted Porier. “When you have a harvest on a lake, even with this limited number of tags, we should soon see a balanced fishery in that lake, where there is an appropriate number of walleye, pike and bait fish, to sustain the population.”
In total, the provincial government is opening eight lakes across Alberta, some of which have been closed since 1996. Fish such as walleye, pike, and yellow perch, are now available for retention, so long as the proper tags are obtained prior to hitting the lake.
“We are going to be offering a small number of tags on our draw system for those lakes. In the past, they had been closed to harvest, so they had a catch and release regulation, and we wanted to provide some sustainable harvest opportunities,” said Dwayne Latty, senior fisheries biologist for the Cold Lake area.
Latty said that after reviewing the population of walleye in both Bourque and Hilda Lake, he was able to determine both lakes could “handle some harvest, so long as we control that harvest.”
He continued, “If we can manage the harvest sustainably, then we can open it up to a harvest regulation. The only way we can do that is by allocating tags and offering them through a draw system.”
Tags are available online through the My Wild Alberta website. They are $11, and are available from April 4 to 27.
Anglers applying for tags pick three lakes and three fish sizes. For example, one application could be for medium-sized walleye in Hilda Lake. Results of the draw are available May 8.
Porier explained, “Similar to the hunting draws, if there are more tags available then anglers apply for that specific size and lake, they go to under subscribed and people can apply for those tags if they weren’t successful in the draw, or didn’t apply for the draw. You are still only allowed one set of tags for one lake.”
About two-thirds of the funding from the tagging system will be invested back into the provincial fisheries program, while the remaining funds will cover administrative costs.
“For many Alberta families, fishing is a bond that links multiple generations. The re-opening of these lakes demonstrates the importance of conservation and sustainable harvesting. Sound management of our lakes, streams and rivers will ensure Albertans will be able to fish for generations to come,” said Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks.
“People will be eating fish again this summer. It was very difficult with only Moose Lake and Cold Lake open for walleye retention in the whole Lakeland… Opening these lakes and changing the size limits of pike in some lakes, it all goes to easier and better harvest, and people can eat fish again this summer,” Porier added.