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Friday, January 27, 2022

Fish research study on Stoney Lake


Residents and visitors may notice a bit more activity on Stoney Lake this year.

Through the help of donations from Ralph and Carol Ingleton, Trent University is currently in the process of monitoring fish and water qualities in Stoney Lake. The research study is being conducted through the Trent Aquatic Research Program lead by Dr. Graham Raby.

Raby told the Herald, “The main project is what we’re calling the fish tracking project, and so we’re using a technology called acoustic telemetry. Telemetry just refers to transmitting data through the air basically, or water. But the transmitters we’re using are these little electronic tags that get surgically implanted into fish and send out an acoustic barcode that can be detected by underwater receivers.”

Raby explained that their team has about 60 underwater receivers placed throughout Stoney Lake that are approximately six feet under water and close to 100 fish with transmitters swimming around.

“The main goal with this is to learn new things about the habitat requirements for the different species and how invasive species and changing water quality might threaten the habitat requirements of some of these top predators that people are interested in like, walleye, muskie and bass, and to be able to use all this information. We’re going to generate all this really detailed information that’ll allow us to sort of make projections about when water quality and temperature change in the future, how is that going to affect each of these species and the data generated from this will be useful, I think not just for Stoney Lake specifically but for all the lakes in the region. Some of the models and data will generate will be transferable to other systems.”

Raby also explained that another part of their study is to look at walleye spawning areas.

“There’s a whole bunch of other sub objectives. One of which is to look at walleye spawning in the Burleigh Falls area. There’s an important spawning area there for walleye and there’s issues with Parks Canada managing water levels there and potential dam reconstruction impacts. So we’re interested in seeing the timing of when walleye move in and out of those spawning areas and also to identify other areas where walleye are spawning.”

The study started in June of last year and is expected to continue for another three years with data and results being released for another five years.

“…the lake is really, really complex in terms of how many shoals and little islands there are. A lot of anglers have told me they’ve lost lots of props and stuff like that. But that’s kind of interesting from a fish habitat perspective, just because of how variable the depths are and different habitat sites and there’s lots of different fish species in there. So we’re putting transmitters into a bunch of different species and we’re going to try and figure out sort of how the difference species partition the habitat space, how they use space differently, and how they compete with each other across different parts of the system.”

Raby said that they plan on tagging more fish throughout the next few weeks, until mid-June when temperatures rise and it becomes more of a risk to catch and release the fish.

He explained, “We don’t use any chemical anesthetics or anything like that. The fish for surgery are immobilized with TENS unit, which is a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. So it’s basically we use electricity to immobilize the fish for surgery. Which surgery takes about five minutes, but there is no chemicals or anything.”

This means that any fish that is caught which has a transmitter in it is perfectly safe to consume. Raby said that should an angler find one of these transmitter, to contact him directly as they can reuse the transmitter in another fish.

Raby also said that they have a collaborator on this project, Jake Brownscombe who is a research scientist at Fisheries and Ocean’s Canada.

“[Brownscombe] grew up on that lake and his family has a cottage there and they actually have an island called Brownscomb Island. So his involvement is the only reason we’re able to do the fish tracking stuff because he brought to the table more than a quarter million dollars’ worth of equipment that actually allows us to do the project. And it was easy to convince him to get involved because it’s his lake that he grew up on so he was pretty excited to have a chance to do some research there and use it as a system to ask questions that he is interested in.”

Raby said that residents, boaters and anglers should be aware that if they were to pull up one of the receivers which are about two feet long and a few inches of wide and black, they should get in touch with the research study to get it back to them. Raby can be contacted at grahamraby@trentu.ca.

For more information and updates on the research project happening on Stoney Lake, visit rabylab.com/stoneylake.