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Bull Trout

 

Waterton Park,The Bull TroutThe bull trout is the largest stream-dwelling char in Alberta. They can weigh up to 12 kg (26 lbs.) and have been known to reach lengths of 70 cm (28 inches) but sizes smaller than this are more common in Waterton Park. It was once found in large numbers in most eastern slopes drainages of Alberta, including the Waterton and Belly River drainages of Waterton Lakes and Glacier National Parks. In the 1920's, the bull trout was chosen as a symbol of Waterton Lakes National Park and used on the park entry license plate. The bull trout is commonly referred to by anglers as the Dolly Varden (an ocean and freshwater species occurring west of the continental divide) but it is a separate species native to Alberta and various western US states.

"No Black, Put it Back!"

It's not too late for the bull trout though! Waterton Lakes National Park and the Province of Alberta are taking steps to aid its recovery. In 1995, a complete ban was implemented on the possession of bull trout by anglers. The slogan developed to aid anglers in identification was "No Black, Put it Back!" referring to the lack of black spots or lines on the back or dorsal fin of the bull trout. A bait ban was also introduced in the Belly and Waterton Rivers and their tributaries to reduce hooking mortality. Bull trout tend to swallow bait deeply and it is often difficult to remove the hook without hurting or killing the fish. Additionally, the North Fork of the Belly River, known bull trout spawning habitat, was closed to all fishing. Work is also being done to reduce the impacts of on stream structures like culverts, dams, and weirs on bull trout.

Parks Canada policies prioritize protection and management of native species such as bull trout. This fish contributes to biodiversity since it is suspected every bull trout in the Province is a pure native with its original gene pool intact. This genetic diversity should contribute to recovery efforts by providing healthy, hardy breeding fish and offspring. It's fortunate that some headwater areas are protected in Waterton Lakes and Glacier, but outside the parks habitat is often degraded or migration routes blocked. Continued cooperation with outside agencies and individuals will be needed to address these issues. It is very possible that bull trout populations can be brought back to levels approaching their historic numbers.

 

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