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Fish rescue marks 30th anniversary on Saturday

The Peigan Friends Along the River fish rescue begins about 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 10 at the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District flume northwest of Fort Macleod.

A tradition that began with a few people filling five-gallon buckets with fish continues Saturday, Oct. 10.

Peigan Friends Along the River will stage the 30th annual fish rescue in the irrigation canal northwest of Fort Macleod.

“I had no idea,” founder Harley Bastien said when asked if he thought in 1990 that the fish rescue would still be going three decades later.

In 1990 it was Bastien and four friends putting fish trapped in the drained irrigation canal and putting them back in the Oldman River.

“We did what we could,” Bastien said, lamenting the many fish that were not rescued that first year. “We came back the next year with a better plan.”

The basics of that plan will be evident starting about 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 10 when, regardless of the weather, volunteers begin their first push.

A small group of people use a net the width of the flume to move fish toward a collection point.

There, other volunteers wait with hand nets and buckets to scoop the fish and transfer them to large holding tanks.

Cutthroat trout, bull trout, brown trout,  white-nosed and long-nosed suckers, northern pike, mountain whitefish, spoonhead sculpins and all manner of fish are weighed, measured and recorded before being returned to the nearby Oldman River.

As many as 5,000 fish are rescued each year by the volunteer crew, which varies in size depending on the weather.

The return of those fish helps maintain the Oldman River fishery.

The fish rescue brings together biologists, anglers, outdoor enthusiasts, academics, students — people from all walks of life. Everyone is welcome.

“It has become a real cross-cultural event,” Bastien said. “It brings so many people together, and those friendships have grown stronger through the years.”

The volunteers will make three or four pushes through the flume, depending on the number of fish that need rescuing. The first push will arrive between 11 a.m. and 12 noon at the flume.

Harley Bastien encourages anyone interested to come out to the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District flume on Saturday to volunteer or just to observe.

“There is  lot of interest,” Bastien said. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls. The thing about the fish rescue is how many people come out depends a lot on the weather.”

Regardless of the weather, that core group of volunteers will be there, just as they have for the past 30 years.