Hundreds of fish trapped in an irrigation canal northwest of Fort Macleod were returned to the Oldman River on Saturday.
For the 23rd consecutive year the Peigan Friends Along the River rescued the fish trapped when the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District canal was drained for the season.
“It’s awesome,” fish biologist Mike Bryski said of the commitment of the volunteers. “It tells you how people feel about fish, and just how important they are, and it shows a level of commitment.”
Bryski, who works out of the Lethbridge office of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, was one of the volunteers who spent Saturday involved with the fish rescue.
The Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District flume is about 10 kilometres northwest of Fort Macleod, just off Highway 785.
Volunteers walked through the darkness of the canal’s flume several times using a big net to herd the fish to a collection point.
The fish were netted and measured and later returned to the Oldman River.
“At the very basic level it just seems the right thing to do,” said Bryski, who each year is involved with several fish rescues. “The river is where they are from, so the river is where they belong. Putting them back is a good thing.”
Bryski said documenting the fish trapped in the canal provides insight into the species that are in the river, the number of fish, their age and size.
The data also assists in discussions about ways to keep the fish out of the canals while still providing the necessary flow for irrigation.
On Saturday volunteers rescued a variety of fish, including white-nosed and long-nosed suckers, northern pike, lake trout, mountain whitefish, brown trout and spoonhead sculpins.
“It’s what we would expect to see,” Bryski said of the fish rescued from the canal.
Bryski said the number of fish needing to be rescued appeared to be lower than other years.
The lower number could be due to a variety of factors, including the strong flow in the river most of the season and the wet growing season that lowered the demand for water from farmers.
The Peigan Friends Along the River fish rescue led by Harley Bastien has earned a strong reputation, being nominated three times for an Alberta Emerald environmental award and being included on the Crown of the Continent geo-tourism map.