Thursday, February 17, 2005 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

Study suggests we're losing quality summer trout habitat

By BRIAN MEDEL Hunting / Fishing

A VERY interesting study is underway in Nova Scotia, delving into the amount of suitable cold-water brook trout habitat that's available in our lakes during the heat of summer.

And it appears that there's a lot less than there was 25 years ago.

Acadia University professor Mike Brylinsky is working on the project. He's the director of the Acadia Centre for Estuarine Research. This work is being prepared for the provincial fisheries department.

Brylinsky is looking for lakes with cold bottom water temperatures for summer trout retreats.

Twenty lakes from all over the province were checked 20 to 25 years ago and the same lakes were re-evaluated in 2001.

The preliminary results?

Almost all of the lakes are worse off than they were in the late 1970s and early 80s.

Although there was little difference in the water temperatures at the lower levels of these lakes, the differences in dissolved oxygen levels were significant.

Almost all of the survey lakes had less oxygen at the bottom of them in the 2001 summertime studies than they did two decades before.

Most lakes classified as good back then were reclassified as poor in 2001.

Only one lake originally classified as poor was found to be good.

By the way, good cold water trout habitat - in a lake - is defined as a water temperature of 15 degrees Celsius or less with dissolved oxygen levels of 50 per cent or more.

Brylinsky says these lake troubles are possibly due to longer growing seasons (in the actual lakes). Algae will grow in a lake's productive upper levels where sunlight is most abundant. When it dies and sinks during an extended growth season, the oxygen at the lake bottom is depleted and trout that have gone down to escape the heat are in trouble.

The longer growing seasons could be due to global warming. The start of a growing season in any lake comes with ice-out, say those who study such things.

Brylinsky says he wants to see if a trend is developing and is seeking ice-out and ice-in data from anyone who has been keeping regular notes on a favourite lake for a few years.

You can contact him through Acadia University's Centre for Estuarine Research.

Interestingly, algae growth may also be attributed to shoreline development. Urban sprawl, residential expansions and even cottage country building projects may all be part of the problem.

This is because phosphorous enters the water where people congregate, whether its from a faulty septic system or lawn fertilizer or erosion.

There are two kinds of lakes in Nova Scotia.

The first group can be called the brown water lakes. These stratify, or separate into warm upper and cooler lower layers, at about three metres down from the surface.

The second, clear water lake group usually separates at about six metres.

The research results are surprising in that very few of the lakes selected for study actually have suitable cold water habitat for trout during the summer.

The research team asks a couple of questions. What has caused this loss of cold water habitat and is this typical of all Nova Scotia lakes?

One of the selection criteria used to decide which lakes to survey was accessibility by road. Roads are also needed for trout stocking.

But a lake that can be reached by road is also susceptible to shoreline development.

Many of the lakes surveyed have summer cottages or permanent homes on them.

If development is responsible for the observed changes, then it underscores the importance of identifying lakes that currently do contain summertime cold water habitat so we can act to make sure they're not lost to encroaching human activity.

It's also important to identify and protect cold water streams that are associated with the lakes, says Brylinsky.

It should be noted that these lakes were tested during either July or August.

During July some of the lakes surveyed had water temperatures of less than 20 degrees Celsius with dissolved oxygen levels at more than 50 per cent. Lakes like these could have provided limited refuge for brook trout. Because of their intermediate position they would have fallen somewhere between poor and good, having some suitable cold water during the summer.

Incidentally, the two lakes during the summer of 2001 that had the best cold water habitat were French Clearwater Lake in Yarmouth County and Millet Lake in Lunenburg County.

These two lakes were also the deepest.

It would be premature, based on the results of this study, says Brylinsky, to conclude that few lakes in Nova Scotia contain habitat suitable for cold water species.

But there's more to learn and this important study will continue.

Brian Medel is an avid angler and hunter living in Yarmouth County. His column appears every Thursday.

Copyright 2005 The Halifax Herald Limited