Fishery resources of the Athabasca River downstream of Fort McMurray, Alberta Vol III

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  • During 1977, the second year of a two-year study, the fish populations of the Athabasca Rive:
    were investigated in two general areas downstream of Fort McMurray. Field work was carried
    out from mid-April to early November in the Mildred Lake study area and from mid-May to
    mid-October in the Delta study area. Fish were collected with gill nets, seines, and angling gear
    in order to identify the species present and their distribution and relative abundance during the
    open-water period, and to obtain samples for life history analysis. A conventional tagging
    program was undertaken to delineate migration patterns for the major fish species. The 1977
    study identified 24 fish species from the lower Athabasca River, 11 of which were common. All
    24 species were present in samples from the Mildred Lake study area, while only 18 were
    captured in the Delta study area. A total of 27 species were identified from the Athabasca River
    during the two years of the study. Major upstream movements of walleye, goldeye, longnose
    sucker, and white sucker occurred in the Athabasca River during early spring. These runs were
    apparently initiated under ice-cover and reached the Mildred Lake study area before the ice had
    left the Athabasca River. The walleye and sucker runs were spawning migrations and the early
    spring upstream movements of these species were followed by a more gradual downstream
    dispersal that continued throughout the summer. The entire lower Athabasca River is important
    as a summer feeding area for immature goldeye which enter the study area prior to breakup and
    departed in late autumn. These goldeye are thought to belong to the population that spawns in the
    Peace-Athabasca Delta. Thus, the lower Athabasca River may play a major role in the
    maintenance of that population. A large upstream spawning migration of lake whitefish occurred
    during September and October. Some whitefish returned to Lake Athabasca shortly after
    spawning but others may have overwintered in the Athabasca River. Trout-perch, flathead chub,
    emerald shiner, and lake chub were the major forage fishes observed.

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