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

Chapter 5: Status and Management of Freshwater Fisheries Resources in Western Canada (Alberta and British Columbia)

Brett T. van Poorten, Michael G. Sullivan, Theresa Godin, Eric Parkinson, Trevor D. Davies, and John R. Post


Alberta and British Columbia (referred to collectively here as “western Canada”) is a region of complexity and contrasts. To the east of the Continental Divide are Alberta and the Peace region of British Columbia (BC), which includes the east slopes of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains that consist of low-relief topography and high angling pressure on few lakes and streams (Post et al. 2002). To the west is most of BC, with high-relief topography, and tens of thousands of streams and lakes; most fishing effort is focused on the relatively small and accessible portions in the interior plateau and in accessible valleys.

The Alberta and BC provincial governments are responsible for nonsalmon freshwater fisheries through delegated authority under the federal Fisheries Act (British Columbia Ministry of Environment 2007a). The BC government is also responsible for anadromous salmonines, including steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss (andadromous Rainbow Trout), Coastal Cutthroat Trout O. clarkii clarkii, and Dolly Varden Salvelinus malma. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) often works directly with Indigenous nations to allocate and manage or co-manage First Nation, harvesting opportunities for both commercial and food, social, and ceremonial (FSC) purposes for freshwater and marine fish (Castaneda et al. 2020) in BC, while the Alberta government works with Indigenous nations to manage their FSC fisheries directly.

A variety of different habitats, regions, and species provide a rich diversity of recreational fishing opportunities across western Canada. Commercial freshwater fisheries are now nearly absent across the region due to low productivity, competition with other sectors, and, in BC, an absence of a regulatory framework: while DFO manages commercial fisheries for Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. and other saltwater species, there is no parallel regulation structure to allow for commercial fishing in freshwater systems in BC. Indigenous fisheries for freshwater resources vary across First Nations, with some benefitting from seasonal abundance of migrating fish stocks while other have lost much of their fishing opportunities due to the legacy of historic overfishing or habitat loss from land use and industrial development (Baird et al. 2021). Importantly, fisheries still serve a major function for Alberta Indigenous nations, with many reserves situated adjacent to major fish-producing lakes.

This chapter focuses on freshwater fisheries in western Canada, with emphasis on the management, status, and threats to recreational, commercial, and First Nations fisheries, with brief discussion of species at risk in the region. Anadromous species which are under federal managerial jurisdiction (primarily Pacific salmon) will not be discussed here.