Researcher asks Lake Utopia anglers to fish for science

·3 min read

A Saint Mary's University graduate student is calling on anglers to help her reel in research material as she studies Lake Utopia's food web.

Erin Francheville, originally from Moncton, is investigating how the chain pickerel population – an invasive species – is impacting the freshwater lake's food web and which fish species is responsible for the declining population of rainbow smelt – an endangered species – in the lake.

She's doing so by conducting research and putting together the lake's food map for her thesis project as she pursues her second year of her master's degree in applied science from Halifax-based Saint Mary's.

Francheville is appealing for anglers with valid provincial fishing licences to reach out to her because she'd like a wide variety of fish to examine and test for her project.

Lake Utopia is home to both smallmouth and largemouth bass, gaspereau, brook trout, yellow perch, white sucker, American eel, chain pickerel, rainbow smelt, various minnow species, and landlocked Atlantic salmon, among other species, said Curtis Forbes, project biologist with Eastern Charlotte Waterways, in an email to the Telegraph-Journal.

Both small-bodied and large-bodied rainbow smelt were classified as an endangered species in 2018 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), he added.

Francheville said there has been similar research done in the lake previously and there are some ongoing research projects too. Her research aims to find out how the invasive chain pickerel species is affecting the rainbow smelt population in the lake, as well as their impact on the overall marine ecosystem in Lake Utopia, including long-term effects.

The chain pickerel isn't native to Atlantic Canada, she said, and was first introduced into lakes in Nova Scotia in 1945 for "sport fishing purposes." The species is now found in many parts of New Brunswick and more than 200 bodies of water in Nova Scotia, she said, noting that when a non-native species gets established in a new ecosystem, there can be effects seen over time.

"Over the decades, the population has increased drastically," she said.

This species can eat other fish species and become the "top predator" in the body of water, she said, which could be a reason behind the declining population of native species like rainbow smelt.

Along with the chain pickerel, Forbes said the adult Atlantic salmon, as well as both the largemouth and smallmouth bass, can potentially be the top predators in the food chain as they feed on smaller fish.

He said these species are "widely regarded as the main threat to the endangered rainbow smelt populations," noting that rainbow smelt fishing isn't allowed in the lake.

Francheville's goal is to wrap up the fishing aspect of the project by late September, but there is no set timeline for concluding the research, and after looking at the data collected she will be able to think "long-term."

Some anglers have already contacted her, she said, and their sharing of local historical and ecological knowledge has been helpful.

"I am very grateful for that."

Anglers who are interested in participating in the project can contact Francheville at erin.francheville@smu.ca to get more information.

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal