Quetico Park’s Sturgeon Lake
Imagine fishing from your canoe when suddenly you feel a tug on your line. You begin to reel it in but it doesn’t budge so you think you may just have a snag. But then it feels like a fish again so you reel and reel and reel and finally you catch a glimpse of something that looks like an alligator.
If you’re fishing in the Quetico Park then this could really happen to you. Sturgeon Lake in the Quetico Park is aptly named for this fish that has been swimming around for over 200 million years. The sturgeon population has declined in areas due to degrading habitat, overfishing and dam construction that has interfered with their spawning process. Not much is known about the stugeon population in the Quetico Park but that will be changing soon.
The Quetico Park sturgeon study has just received funding that will enable them to learn more about the sturgeon of the Quetico Park. They hope to find out information about their migration patterns and spawning areas as well as how many there are and how well they are doing.
The next time you plan a trip to the Quetico consider camping in Sturgeon, Russell, Tanner, Twin or McAree Lake where you can fish for Sturgeon. It’s catch and release fishing for them in the Quetico Park but imagine catching a prehistoric looking fish from a canoe. I’m thinking I might want to try my luck at catching one or even better would be to see them spawning in the spring.
A new project that will study the sturgeon population of Quetico Provincial Park is a go thanks to recently-announced provincial funding aimed at protecting “species at risk.”
The funding was granted to the Quetico Foundation as part of the Ministry of Natural Resource’s “Species at Risk Stewardship Fund,” which announced more than $4 million to 118 projects across the province in late May.
Quetico’s sturgeon study will centre around the aptly-named Sturgeon Lake, explained Arthur Saunders, chairman of the scientific advisory committee for the Quetico Foundation.
“Quetico, and, in fact, the whole [Northwestern Ontario] region . . . way back when, was home to a very healthy population of sturgeon and it was a major food source for First Nations in the area,” Saunders noted.
“And then over the years, those populations were depleted as a result of over-harvesting, as well as dams that were built across various rivers and spawning areas that were disrupted, and so now the populations are separated and nobody really knows what’s left, or what condition they’re in or anything else,” he stressed.
“The purpose of the study is, first of all, to conduct a population estimate on Sturgeon lake to see how many are there,” Saunders explained, describing the project as a “continuation” of studies already underway being headed by the MNR and Voyageurs National Park looking at the sturgeon population of the Namakan reservoir and river.
“The second objective is to determine what the characteristics of that population are—and that means things like ‘How old are the fish that are there? How big are they?’
“The third thing we’re going to do is look at a couple of other lakes in Quetico, Wolseley Lake and Beaverhouse, and then the fourth thing is to see where those sturgeon are coming from and going to,” he added.
This includes looking at if the sturgeon stay in Sturgeon Lake for their entire lives, or migrate to different lakes within and outside of Quetico.
“And, of course, to look into spawning and see where they’re spawning, and how they’re doing that, and seeing what areas are critical to the survival of the population,” he remarked.
“When you have a species at risk, or a species of special concern, then by finding out, number one, where the population is, you can apply appropriate conservation measures,” he said, underlining the significance of this study.
Studying the population in terms of age also is an important aspect, noted Saunders, such as discovering if it’s only composed of young fish.
“That might be a dangerous sign because it might mean that the older and larger fish are being harvested, or that there is something else preventing the fish from
reaching a large size, and then old age,” he explained.
“And both of those characteristics are important because it’s the larger, older fish that are responsible for breeding and reproducing as the population ages.
“So by examining those characteristics, we can determine the health of the population.”
The condition of the local environment also is something that can be drawn from studies like these.
“Sturgeon, like many species, give an indication of the overall health of the ecosystem,” Saunders said. “Because if the sturgeon population is not healthy, then that might be an indication that there’s other things wrong in the environment.”
The provincial funding also means economic opportunities for the region.
“As you know, the economic situation in Ontario’s northwest is looking pretty dim right now, and so it’s very important to us that we encourage economic prosperity by providing jobs,” Saunders stressed.
“And there will be some jobs, which include a field biologist leading the project.
“There’s going to be a field technician, there’s also going to be four full-time field staff from Lac La Croix First Nation, and they’re going to be assisting with the netting, processing, and tracking, and that’s going to be over a six-month period,” he added.
With a large portion of the funding earmarked for jobs, Saunders said the rest will go towards the equipment and logistics needed to run the study, such as motor boats, and technology for tagging the sturgeon with radio transmitters to monitor their movement.