Freshwater Fisheries in Canada: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Resources and Their Management

Chapter 4: The Evolution of Freshwater Fish Habitat Science and Management in Canada

Jack G. Imhof


Fisheries science in Canada is well established, dating back to the early 1920s with work by A. G. Huntsman (e.g., Huntsman and Sparks 1924) and even earlier (e.g., Fielding (1910) Loss of Spawning Grounds and its Dangers, mentioned in Wickett 1958). The recognition of fisheries as vital to the well-being of Canadians and their economy was recognized in 1868, shortly after Confederation, with the establishment of the federal Fisheries Act following the enactment of the British North America Act (1867).

Fishes have always been considered a staple of life in many parts of Canada, given the bounty of lakes and rivers and the flanking of the country on three sides by oceans. This abundance of fishes created strong commercial enterprises, both on the oceans and in the inland lakes and even rivers and streams. There are anecdotal stories of commercial harvest of Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis from small spring creeks in southern Ontario being shipped to Toronto for sale back in the late 1880s. The famous coaster Brook Trout of Lake Superior and the Nipigon River were sent by the barrelful to markets in Canada and the USA as late as the turn of the last century (Wilson 1990).

The requirement for sound science to inform effective renewable resource management was recognized by the Canadian Government in 1909 with the creation of the Commission of Conservation (COC; Girard 1991), a precursor to the National Research Council (NRC). Its task was to support and guide the development of science to provide Canadian industries and businesses with better tools to “husband resources” (Girard 1991). The COC had three major areas of focus that included better ways to manage nonrenewable resources, research into policy requirements, and scientific research to ensure renewable resource management in the face of industrial and economic development (see Girard 1991). This commission likely spurred the early fisheries works that were subsequently supported by the National Research Council, established in 1916. By 1921, the NRC had taken over all scientific responsibilities from the Commission of Conservation, which was then disbanded.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines habitat as, “the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism.” Further definition and refinement includes the physical and chemical conditions and processes that allow an animal or plant to reproduce, survive, grow, and reproduce (e.g., discussions in Hynes 1970).

This chapter is by no means exhaustive, but is intended to provide an overview and review of the development and application initially of fisheries science and then more directly habitat science to the understanding of freshwater aquatic environments and fish habitat in Canada. Although the focus of this chapter and this book is on Canadian science, as with all science there are interactions, collaborations, and discoveries that transcend an individual country’s borders, and these are touched on as well as they relate and explain this evolution and application of habitat science to fisheries management in Canada. The chapter explores the evolution of fish habitat science and management in Canada, first in chronological order and secondly by major themes. This is a challenge as, in many instances, new ideas have evolved both sequentially and in parallel. However, wherever possible, the chapter attempts to maintain a chronological order. Table 1 is provided as a guide to show chronology and theme of research by date and citation. Citations from international researchers are also noted with their country of origin, whereas Canadian research citations stand on their own.