Fish Sampling

The Fish Community

The fish community is generally made up of a variety of organisms other than “fish”; these can include freshwater mussels, benthic invertebrates, turtles and aquatic macrophytes. All of these organisms act as important ecological indicators that reflect the state of our rivers and streams. Healthy rivers and streams are made up of a variety of fish species. Some require unique habitats and are sensitive to changes in their environment and others are more tolerant to these changes. However, it is the subset of “sensitive species” which define and provide the flag to a decline in the health of our aquatic ecosystems.

Monitoring of the fish community including the composition and relative numbers of particular fish species within the whole community tells a story about how the aquatic ecosystem is functioning, and what if any, problems are being experienced. This monitoring not only informs our understanding about our rivers and streams, but also about the entire landscape itself. As water flows through the entire landscape before entering rivers and streams, the aquatic ecosystem is the end point for all things. It is here that we begin to see the impacts of landscape change and existing landscape practices. The related impacts observed in the aquatic ecosystem as a result of monitoring, manifest themselves in a cumulative manner from upstream to downstream. The resulting changes observed in the fish community need to be tied to an understanding of what has changed on the landscape.

For healthy fishery communities to exist within a watershed, water management has become a key focus for attention (Rouge River Watershed Plan, Rouge River Fisheries Management Plan). The flow regime (amount and timing) and quality of water can be linked to many critical components of the aquatic ecosystem, and helps to define the physicochemical characteristics of a watercourse, and can include water temperature, channel shape, and habitat diversity. The alteration to the amount, timing and quality of water that gets to rivers and streams has a cumulative effect on aquatic communities (fish in particular) within a watershed and needs to be monitored over time.

Aquatic organisms live a silent life beneath the water with the large majority of these organisms going unseen and living unknown lives, disconnected from human communities that reside adjacent to them. One of the consequences of this condition is that aquatic ecosystems fail to stir the same emotional response from local communities, as do their terrestrial counter parts. A secondary result of this detachment is that there has been little attention to, or study of aquatic ecosystems or species. This lack of detailed life history information on specific species poses a major challenge for aquatic ecosystem management. The result has been a continued decline and degradation of aquatic ecosystems, particularly in urbanization watersheds. For example Master (1990) recognized 55% of North America's mussels as extinct or imperiled, compared to only 7% of the continent's bird and mammal species.

Through fisheries monitoring in the Rouge River Watershed, the Citizen Scientists program will offer people from the local community the opportunity to learn and interact with the different fish and benthic invertebrate species. Additionally the program has been designed to collect long term data for which analysis can be conducted and trends established. Fisheries surveys are the primary method of making aquatic assessments for a watercourse’s ecological integrity, however, other methods are also employed. Fish species and fish communities appear to have critical connections to what happens on the landscape, and as such make very good bio-indicators. Citizen Scientists currently follows the Ontario Stream Assessment Protocol (OSAP) for the collection of fisheries data, a standardized protocol as developed by Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. This allows fisheries data to be collected in a standardized manner, and as such all data is directly comparable to each other at a site level for similar habitat types.

Currently Citizen Scientists monitors seven locations within the Rouge Watershed all contained with the Little Rouge River subwatershed. The aquatic monitoring sites are located in two distinctive fisheries management zones (FMZ 4 and FMZ 7, defined by the Rouge River Fisheries Management Plan) each of which has a unique and distinctive fish community. Analysis and interpretation of the fisheries results are informed by the understanding of these two fisheries management zones.

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