Fisheries Education

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Environment

The environment is the total of all our surroundings: Air, Water, Plants, Wildlife, Fish and People.

The specific environment in which we live in is called our habitat. To survive, people rely on their habitat to provide them with food, clothing, shelter and space - the basic needs of any animal. As we interact with other organisms to meet our needs, we are part of an ecosystem - a natural unit of linked, living and non-living parts. Clearly, people must use the earth's resources, including the fisheries resource, to survive. However, we must use these resources wisely, to ensure that not only we survive but our children and their children survive.

What is fish habitat?

Fish Habitat Fish habitat is defined under the Federal Fisheries Act as:
  • "spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes."

In other words, fish habitats include not only the water in rivers, lakes, streams and oceans, but also the quality of that water and the surroundings in which plants and other life forms interact to make fish life possible.

In Manitoba, fish habitats are found in lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, ponds, marshes and reservoirs. Fish depend on these habitats to meet their basic life cycle requirements which are:
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • and Reproduction

FoodShelterReproduction

Fish habitat is the backbone of our fisheries, and we have to put safeguards into place to ensure that the basic requirements for life are maintained. This includes water quality and quantity that allows these processes to continue.

Fish habitat is a finite resource and must be protected to support the various fishing activities undertaken in Manitoba. For example, domestic and commercial fishers depend on the habitat to provide fish spawning and nursery areas. Without them no new fish would grow, resulting in the eventual depletion of the stocks. Therefore, the different users of the fishery must share the responsibility and protect and enhance this valuable resource.

Where is the habitat?

"Fish habitat" describes every place where fish can survive, whether it be a marshy area in a lake, a slow meandering creek or a set of pools and riffles in a river. Whatever the type, different species have evolved to take advantage of these habitats.

mosaic

However, fish habitat is vulnerable to the activities that take place around it. Below are a few examples of such activities that can affect fish habitat.

Land Use Impacts and Solutions

In some parts of Manitoba, fish have been denied access to upstream reaches of the rivers because of dams. To overcome this problem, fish ladders have been built throughout the province to allow fish passage back up into upstream reaches. By constructing these ladders, historic migration patterns can once again be achieved.

Rock Fishway
Rock Fishway

Over the years, water quality has been degraded because too much nutrient and sediment from agricultural, municipal and natural sources has been drained into the rivers.

Bank Erosion Algal Bloom
Bank Erosion Algal Bloom

Steps are being taken in some areas to alleviate these problems. On the Little Saskatchewan River, local farmers and fish and game groups have developed and introduced streambank protection and riparian zone management. By fencing off portions of the river (i.e. not allowing livestock access), pumping water uphill to livestock corrals and revegetating damaged streambanks, these problems can be overcome.

Before After
Before After

Other human activities, such as discharging effluent and littering, also affect fish habitat. Every day, dangerous substances are introduced into our waterways on purpose and by mistake.

Effluent Discharge
Effluent Discharge

Programs have been developed to offset these activities, such as effluent treatment plants and educational materials that illustrate why it is important to protect our water supplies.

River Cleanup
River Cleanup

Local game and fish groups have taken steps by running yearly river and lake cleanup programs throughout the province.

When do they use it?

Fish need a safe habitat all year; however, different areas are used to complete different phases of their life cycle. From egg to adult, fish may travel through a variety of habitats. These are:

  • spawning
  • nursery
  • rearing
  • cover
  • feeding habitats
Spawning / Reproduction

Reproduction is a vital part of a fish's life cycle, and ensures that a new generation of fish will be born and develop.

Egg to Adult

Spawning habitat can range from a rocky shoal along a lake shoreline to a grassy-weedy marsh area. Different species prefer different types of habitat, but all of these habitats are important. Each habitat may be used during different times of the year, depending on the species.

River Cleanup

For example, walleye spawn in the spring and prefer areas with cobble and gravel bottoms. These are usually found in lakes, rivers and streams. In comparison, northern pike prefer areas with lots of vegetation which are commonly found in marshy and slow moving areas.

Nursery / Rearing

Nursery and rearing habitats are where larval and juvenile fish grow. These areas have the necessary food to allow them to grow, while providing protection from being eaten themselves. In some cases, the nursery and rearing habitats used by these fish dry up later in the summer or fall, and the fish must find another habitat, such as a larger river or stream to live in.

Walleye Larvae

Good nursery/rearing habitat can come in a variety of different forms. These can be riffle and pools, marshes, ponds or weeds located around the lake shore.

For example, many walleye spawn in tributary streams along lakes. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae slowly move downstream, spending time in the slower-moving pools. In these pools, they find the food they need to grow.

Tributary Stream

Cover / Protection

As fish grow, they must constantly be on guard to avoid being eaten by other fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

MinkGreat Blue HeronMudpuppy

To avoid being eaten, many fish look for protective areas to hide. These may be fallen trees, large boulders, undercut banks, fast flowing stretches of water or weeds. Fish try to blend into their surroundings to avoid being detected.

Feeding

Throughout their life cycle, the different habitats they live in provide them with food. If not, fish would perish. Feeding habitats usually contain a range of food, including: insects, vegetation, snails and other fish.

MayflyCattails
SnailMinnows

Depending on the species and the life cycle stage fish are in, some or all of these foods may be consumed.

Why is it important?

Fish are an important and valuable renewable resource in Manitoba. The fisheries in Manitoba support an important commercial and recreational fishery that generates millions of dollars to the provincial economy. The fishery also provides social benefits, such as support for cultural and traditional lifestyles.

Healthy Environment

Manitobans expect a clean and healthy environment to live in, and healthy fish communities are good indicators of environmental health. Fish are sensitive to environmental changes such as water temperature fluctuations or drops in flow.

If fish do not have a favourable environment to live in, their numbers will decline and in time the population may be wiped out. For these reasons, healthy fish habitat is extremely important, for without it, fish could not survive.

Health Habitat

By protecting fish habitat and the fish that live it, we ensure that future generations have the same opportunities whether economical or social, that we enjoy today.