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

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  • The fish populations of the Athabasca River downstream of Fort McMurray were sampled during the open-water period in 1976 and 1977. Fish were collected with gill nets, seines, and angling gear in order to identify the species present, to document their distribution and relative abundance, and to obtain samples for life history analysis. A conventional tagging program was undertaken to delineate migration patterns for the major fish species. Twenty-seven fish species were identified from the Athabasca River, 11 of which were common. Species diversity was greatest near Fort McMurray where all 27 species occurred, but decreased in a downstream direction as only 18 species were captured in the Delta study area. The Athabasca River and its tributaries provide important spawning, feeding, and rearing areas for a number of fish species and may play a major role in the maintenance of the fish populations of Lake Athabasca. Major upstream movements of walleye, goldeye, longnose suckers, and white suckers occur in the Athabasca River during early spring. These runs are initiated under ice-cover and reach the Mildred Lake study area before the ice leaves the Athabasca River. The walleye and sucker runs are spawning migrations and the early spring upstream movements of these species are followed by a more gradual downstream dispersal that continues throughout the summer. The entire lower Athabasca River serves as a summer feeding area for immature goldeye which enter the study area prior to break-up and leave in late autumn. These goldeye are thought to belong to the population that spawns in the Peace-Athabasca Delta. A large upstream spawning migration of lake whitefish occurs during September and October. Some whitefish return to Lake Athabasca shortly after spawning but others may overwinter in the Athabasca River. Troutperch, flathead chub, emerald shiners, lake chub, and spottail shiners are the major forage fishes in the study area. Floy tags were applied to 9311 fish during the study and the return rate to date is 4.2%. Results indicate that walleye, goldeye, lake whitefish, longnose suckers, and white suckers found in the lower Athabasca River belong to populations that overwinter in Lake Athabasca and the Peace-Athabasca Delta. The fry of many fish species appear in the Athabasca River during June and July. Most of these fry do not remain in the study area but are carried downstream to nursery areas in the lower Athabasca River or Lake Athabasca.

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