Fishing reg changes for Nipisi and Winagami this year

Others likely, following consultation

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Look for changes in fishing regulations on two area lakes this year. Others may happen as well, but only two are definite at this point – Nipisi and Winagami.

This information came from a ‘webinar’ session on Jan. 26, focusing on the northwest region of Alberta.

These meetings happen annually in January. Government resource managers offer the results of recent research into fish populations and propose management strategies with pros and cons. They ask for feedback and answer questions.

At the 2018 meeting, it was noted that pike numbers are not in good shape in Lesser Slave and further restrictions on them are likely coming. One of the first questions in the Jan. 26 meeting was about that. Any changes this year for the big lake?

“No change for April 2021,” said regional fisheries biologist Myles Brown. “We did a survey last fall. We’ll take this year to analyze trends. We need lots of time to engage with stakeholders and provide options. Stay tuned.”

Getting back to the changes for Nipisi and Winagami, good news for people who want to keep a big pike on the little lake off Hwy. 88. Brown said a couple of years of catch and release only have had the desired effect.

“It’s opening back up,” he said. “One over 75 centimetres.”

Somebody questioned the wisdom of that strategy, given that the bigger, older fish produce more eggs. Responding, biologist Kristy Wakeling said the objective on the lake was get back to a state of ‘quality harvest.’ The numbers suggest that can be done, and the “middle ranks” of spawners, being more abundant than the really big ones, can make up for the loss.
As for Winagami – a popular lake for fishing north of High Prairie – pike numbers have dropped sharply since 2015.

“So catch and release for 2021,” said Brown.

Reg changes for other lakes are being contemplated, but public input comes first. North and South Wabasca Lakes are in this class of what Brown called ‘consultation lakes.’

There have been overfishing episodes on both lakes, Brown said, leading to populations at risk. But the most recent surveys show improvement. Management options were presented for both the Wabasca Lakes and feedback requested.

A question was asked about the tag system for Fawcett Lake. It seems it is not working efficiently. Can it be improved? One way it can be improved is if fishers let the managers know what they’ve done.

“Please fill out your surveys,” said biologist Benjamin Kissinger.

Also questioned was how Indigenous harvest is managed. Indigenous fishing rights are protected by the Canadian Constitution, attendees heard, and as such have top priority. As for the numbers, Alberta Environment and Parks resource manager KayeDon Wilcox said, “It can vary, (but) by and large it is quite modest compared to the recreational harvest.”

Another question was whether the closure of the commercial fishery on Lesser Slave (in 2014) has resulted in a negative impact on pike and walleye numbers. Some people suspect that with whitefish and tullibee (cisco) unchecked, the increased competition for food would hurt the big two rec fishing target species. Brown did not concede that is happening. Nor does he agree the whitefish and cisco are growing unchecked.

“It will be a long time before we see abundance (comparable to what it once was),” he said. “And they feed the walleye and pike.”

Somebody asked why a limited harvest of walleye is not allowed on Utikuma Lake. Fielding that one, Wakeling said that species’ sustainability is at high risk, due to its very low density. However, it will be surveyed in the future and “there might be an opportunity,” she said.

For more on the 2021 Alberta sportfishing regs, and to complete a survey, see alberta.ca.

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