Fish eggs and habitat usage studied at Buffalo Pound

Nathan Liewicki
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Kate Prestie, right, works to sew up a Bigmouth Buffalo that was temporarily removed from Buffalo Pound Lake and had a tracking device inserted into its abdomen, while her twin sister Nichole showered the fish's gills with water Friday. The Prestie twins are aquatic field technicians working on a research project for the Water Security Agency.

SWF and WSA working together on separate projects

Buffalo Pound Lake is home to a Water Security Agency (WSA) study examining the seasonal habitat usage of bigmouth buffalo.

Part of the WSA study includes collecting information to determine the bigmouth buffalo’s spatial usage of lakes in the Qu’Appelle waterway system.

“We tagged 250 bigmouth buffalo last year and spent the rest of the summer trying to relocate them and determine where they are temporally within the lake,” said Jeff Sereda, an aquatic ecologist with the WSA.

At this point, Sereda and his team discovered – of the bigmouth buffalo they have thus far been able to relocate – the fish have swam all the way down to Fairy Hill Marsh, located north of Regina and east of Highway 6.

“It appears that the bigmouth buffalo migrate and utilize the entire Qu'Appelle system more than we thought they did,” he said. “We thought they may have more fidelity in a particular system, but that doesn't appear to be the case.”

On Friday, Sereda and his team were joined at the Ministry of Environment’s Spawning Camp at Buffalo Pound Lake by Adam Matichuk and his Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation (SWF) team.

Matichuk, who is a fisheries biologist with the SWF, said working with Sereda’s team has been beneficial for both camps.

“The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation was initially supposed to help the Ministry of Environment with this and that's what we're doing, but I knew the guys from the Water Security Agency were also doing a project in this area,” Matichuk told the Times-Herald. “It only makes sense that if we are catching the fish already, to bring them here and they can do what they want to do and they don't have to put in the effort to try and catch these fish.”

After all, they don’t have control over which fish enter their traps.

The collaborative efforts have allowed the two groups to share their resources and equipment to collect data needed for their respective research projects.

The main focus of the SWF is to collect fish eggs, but not from bigmouth buffalo.

“Our goal is to collect eggs – walleye eggs – and then take them back to a hatchery in Fort Qu’Appelle,” said Matichuk.

The fish are captured using three live traps near shoreline areas on Buffalo Pound Lake. They are checked every day and the female walleye’s eggs are collected.

Following fertilization of the eggs at a portable hatchery, they are distributed in water systems across the province, including back into Buffalo Pound Lake.

“They're put mostly in places where there isn't a natural walleye population, or a self-sustaining population,” said Matichuk.

When a fish, including a northern pike, is caught, its weight and length are recorded. By examining the ratio of those two pieces of information, Sereda and his team can infer the health of the fish.

“With the Bigmouth Buffalo we note age structure, so we can see if there's missing age classes within the population,” Sereda explained. “Based on that we can go back to historical hydrological records and see what were the conditions that may have led to poor recruitment one year or another.”

All fish are also implanted with a tracking device after their temporary capture. The bigmouth buffalo receives one that is similar to the size of a pill bottle.

More fish will be caught as the temperature increases; and when more fish are caught, spawning increases dramatically, as does the data that is collected.

Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks

Organizations: Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, Water Security Agency, Ministry of Environment Times-Herald

Geographic location: Buffalo Pound Lake, Regina, Fort Qu’Appelle

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