Are invasive pickerel endangering Lake Utopia rainbow smelt?

·2 min read
Erin Francheville is appealing to people who fish in and around Lake Utopia to donate some of what they catch to science. She plans to analyze fish tissue and stomach contents to create a “comprehensive model of the lake food web.”  (Submitted by Erin Francheville - image credit)
Erin Francheville is appealing to people who fish in and around Lake Utopia to donate some of what they catch to science. She plans to analyze fish tissue and stomach contents to create a “comprehensive model of the lake food web.” (Submitted by Erin Francheville - image credit)

Researchers from St. Mary's University in Halifax are recruiting New Brunswick anglers for a study of rainbow smelt and chain pickerel.

Lake Utopia, in Charlotte County, is home to a unique pair of rainbow smelt subspecies, said Erin Francheville, a masters student in applied science.

They're both considered endangered, she said, and it's possible invasive pickerel are playing a role in their demise.

"We can't move forward … with recovery efforts and management," said Francheville, "without extensive evidence and a better understanding of why."

Submitted by Passamaquoddy Recognition Group
Submitted by Passamaquoddy Recognition Group

To that end, Francheville and her adviser, Linda Campbell, a senior research fellow in aquatic ecosystem health, are appealing to people who fish in and around the lake to donate some of what they catch to science.

Francheville plans to analyze fish tissue and stomach contents to create a "comprehensive model of the lake food-web."

That includes predator-prey relationships, she said, and interactions between fish.

"We're excited to see the results," said Lita O'Halloran, a conservation manager with the Passamaquoddy Recognition Group, Inc.

It represents the Passamaquoddy, or Peskotomuhkati, in New Brunswick, who traditionally harvested rainbow smelt, she said.

"We do a lot of restoration work within the territory," said O'Halloran. "Projects like this can inform some of our initiatives."

The group has been monitoring rainbow smelt activity in and around Lake Utopia for a few years in collaboration with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said O'Halloran.

Submitted by Erin Francheville
Submitted by Erin Francheville

They've found the fish spawning in several tributaries, including Trout Lake Brook, Mill Lake Stream, Second Brook, Unnamed Brook and Smelt Brook.

Lake Utopia rainbow smelt are quite similar to those found elsewhere in the province in salt water, she said.

One of the local populations is characterized as being "large bodied" and the other is "small bodied."

"Both evolved from one primary ancestral population," said Francheville.

"This is really unique and ecologically interesting," she said, adding it's "not often seen elsewhere."

Submitted by Passamaquoddy Recognition Group
Submitted by Passamaquoddy Recognition Group

Meanwhile, chain pickerel were introduced to Atlantic Canada for sport fishing, she said, and the population has expanded "drastically" in recent decades. They're now found in more than 200 lakes in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

They're "piscivorous," meaning they eat other fish, she said, and can very quickly become a top predator in a lake

"This makes them very threatening to native fish species."

Francheville plans to meet with local groups and anglers this month.

She's interested in any fish they catch, under local provincial angling permits, to make her model as complete as possible.

Anyone interested in taking part can reach her at erin.francheville@smu.ca.