Elliot Lindsay, an implementation biologist with Trout Unlimited Canada, checks water temperature data from his Bluetooth monitor in preparation for the sucker spawning runs at Beauvais Lake.Mia Parker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As the water gets warmer, Beauvais Lake and its streams prepare for the multiplying event of the season — the annual spawning runs of the native sucker fish.

Elliot Lindsay, an implementation biologist with Trout Unlimited Canada, is monitoring the spawning season, collecting observational evidence of spawning conditions, length and more.

But his main goal is bringing attention to what he believes are pretty cool fish.

The white suckers he’s studying have many interesting traits and abilities. Each fish can lay thousands of eggs and, unlike some similar species, they can continue breeding for years instead of dying off after the spawning season.

Suckers are largely unique to North America, and Elliiot notes that only one species of sucker can actually be naturally found outside of North America.

They play a significant role in ecosystems like Beauvais Lake. The fish bring nutrients and minerals from the lake into its streams and to the animals that eat them or their eggs.

“Every spring the bears know that it’s the sucker spawning season. And they come down and they like feasting on these fish,” says Elliot. “It’s a really important spring rush of nutrients and proteins and fat.”

After this, the minerals and nutrients from the lake are spread up into the trees and the other local species.

“They’re kind of like this connection between the river and the forest,” he says.

The same happens with the suckers at the Oldman reservoir, where they bring up nutrients into the tributaries when they make their spawning runs.

The Pincher Creek is one of the bodies of water that hosts the Oldman spawning runs.

In conjunction with his Trout Unlimited work, Elliot’s research is contributing to the final stages of his degree in science and environmental practice.

“I’m trying to use this as an opportunity to learn more about local suckers,” he says, noting that suckers are an underappreciated fish.

Historically, suckers have been hated and Elliot says people would catch them just to throw them in the bush or on the bank, or kill spawning fish for no reason. The attitude was that they were “trash fish.”

“Fortunately, we don’t really do that anymore,” he says, “but some of their attitudes about suckers are still around.”

Spawning typically starts mid May, but the fish are very sensitive to water temperature in the streams. Elliot hasn’t seen the start of the spawning frenzy yet but has been monitoring stream temperatures with a Bluetooth device and anticipates it will start soon.

“I definitely encourage people to check it out,” he says. “It’s pretty amazing.”

He notes that, like with other animals, it will be important to give them their space and not accidentally step on their eggs.

The pedestrian bridges crossing over the Beauvais Lake streams like Beaver Creek are ideal viewing places, and during peak season you can see thousands of fish in the creeks, packed shoulder to shoulder.

“They’re like one of the most abundant fish in terms of biomass in our rivers,” Elliot says.

The spawning season will continue until about mid June, when the creeks become too warm and start to dry up.

Another native fish he’s been raising awareness of is the fathead minnow, which can make a vocalization by the vibration of special muscles against its swim bladder, a gas-filled organ that controls buoyancy.

“It’s like a little percussion instrument basically,” he says. “It’s kind of cool.”

In a video taken by Elliot last June, their chatter can be clearly heard underwater.

To learn more about Trout Unlimited and its work as a registered charitable organization, visit www.tucanada.org.

By Mia Parker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 15, 2024 at 13:43

This item reprinted with permission from   Shootin' the Breeze   Pincher Creek, Alberta

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