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Volunteers rescue trapped fish from canal near Fort Macleod

Volunteer Leslie Mahoney

Volunteer Leslie Mahoney, a long-time supporter of the Peigan Friends Along the River fish rescue, measures one of the fish pulled Saturday from the drained Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District canal northwest of Fort Macleod.

For nearly a quarter of a century, a dedicated group of volunteers has gathered early in October to rescue fish trapped in a drained irrigation canal.
Peigan Friends Along the River returned Saturday to the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District canal northwest of Fort Macleod to return thousands of fish to the Oldman River.
“It’s been a great community effort,” said John Mahoney, Lethbridge manager of operational support for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
The fish rescue was started 24 years ago by Harley Bastien, whose property is adjacent to the flume where the trapped fish are pulled from the drained canal.
Bastien discovered the trapped fish in 1990 and organized a small group of family and friends to carry out the rescue.
“Harley started it,having identified an issue,” Mahoney said. “He’s worked within the local community.”
What began 24 years ago as a grassroots effort by a small group of people has grown to involve agencies such as Alberta Environment.
Bastien noted Saturday the fish rescue has attracted dedicated volunteers who return year after year.
“The thing about the fish rescue for me is it’s all abut the positive attention it draws to the environmental conservation,” Bastien said. “Also, it draws attention to the impact these irrigation canals have on the fish.”
Mahoney agreed the fish rescue has played an important role in educating people about the environmental impact of something as positive as irrigation.
“We need to recognize this is just one of the costs of that,” Mahoney said.
Fish rescues take place at other locations along the canal, some of which involve volunteers co–ordinated by Trout Unlimited.
Mahoney stressed the importance of volunteers — including children — being able to handle the fish.
Actress Michelle Thrush and her daughter Imajyn were among the volunteers on Saturday.
Thrush was encouraged to attend by Bastien, who is related through marriage
“He’s been telling me about it for years and I’ve just always been busy,” Thrush said. “I decided this year to come down. Because it’s Thanksgiving, I thought it was a good thing to be thankful for. It’s really interesting.”
Volunteers walked the flume several times, pushing the fish to a central location where they were collected in nets, weighed and measured.
The group made several pushes about an hour apart throughout the day in order to drive all the fish through the flume to the central catching point.
Volunteers wearing water-proof clothing such as hip or chest waders and carrying dip nets waited to scoop the fish that were rounded up.
“The friendships and understandings from the folks who come away from here, those are the things I’m really glad to have been part of,” Bastien said.