Angler and Hunter
Here's a Triploid Can of Worms
ZONE 1 - Are anglers in northwestern Ontario ready (willing?) To pay a user fee to experience quality trophy brook angling on lakes that are now public?
Lauri Parks of DAMSA - "the trophy fish company" - is gambling that they will, and with the help of the Thunder Bay District MNR and some of the most knowledgeable fisheries people in North America, Mrs. Parks is busy raising 5,000 brook and rainbow trout in a Thunder Bay hatchery that just might attain that double digit size she feels will attract anglers willing to pay extra money for exceptional, high-quality, trophy trout angling.
The secret ingredient that accounts for the huge size estimates being bandied around? It's a process with a name that sounds like it was pulled straight out of a science fiction movie: "triploiding". Triploid fish are known to grow larger than regular trout because they are rendered sterile by treating them with hot water when they are fry or eggs. Sexually sterile adult trout don't use energy up on egg or milt production, they just eat a lot and in doing so get big, round and heavy.
"The interesting thing about triploids is that they actually grow slower than normal trout for the first year or two of their life" says Bob Hamilton, fish and wildlife supervisor of Thunder Bay District, and the overseer of the DAMSA project, "but it is in that third year that the fish really start to grow."
This project, which has been in the works for over a year, was originally the brainchild of Thunder Bay's Jon Parks, a Yale-educated chemist now working on his Master's in Scotland. Parks identified a number of small lakes in the Thunder Bay area that might be able to support trout and, after getting the okay from the District MNR, went about doing the spadework required to find potential trout waters, locating and surveying a handful of inaccessible lakes in Adrian, Horne and Conmee Townships. After a study which inventoried 17 lakes, Parks identified three which he felt would be suitable for trout stocking. Jon Parks' wife Lauri, president of DAMSA, then approached the Ministry with the names of the three lakes selected, in hopes of establishing a trophy trout fishery on them.
"MNR input regarding this proposal comes from the view that these are Crown lakes, but at present we have no interest in expanding their fisheries." says Hamilton. "The lakes in question have no native sport fish, and therefore are of no interest to anglers. Some of the lakes have serious winter oxygen problems, and none of them are what we consider accessible."
The DAMSA plan, if it jumps the hurdle of a public environmental assessment (EA), will certainly be among the most unique and controversial fishery initiatives ever undertaken in North America. Not only will the DAMSA program involve stocking sterile triploid trout into inland waters, but these Crown lakes will become privately-operated "Total Control Access Lakes", i.e. anglers will have to pay DAMSA a user fee to access and fish the lakes, above and beyond the regular fees taken in by the Ministry through sport fishing licences.
Although everyone involved is optimistic that the DAMSA project will be approved by anglers, there are still a number of questions yet to be answered and problems to be addressed. One major question is whether sterile trout actually grow better in the three small lakes than normal, sexually-fertile trout. To obtain this information, a number of "altered trout" are now being studied on the West Coast by noted fisheries experts Ed Donaldson and Igor Solar and it is hoped the results they record will help determine whether the triploids will outgrow the normal, sexually-fertile, Nipigon-strain brook trout that are the "control" population in the experiment.
There is also the question of which sterilizing method is best. Besides the heat-treat triploiding method, trout can be manually sterilized (by incision). Possibly the strangest trout alteration is known as the sex-reversal trout. The reversal trout is created by dipping fertilized eggs in a chemical compound laced with either testosterone or estrogen. Theoretically the eggs laced with estrogen should hatch female and the testosterone-laced eggs, male. The fry are then fed hormone-rich food which reinforces one sex or the other until the fry are three inches in length. Once the three-inch length has been reached, the fish are fed normally and in time all trace of the hormones in the flesh of the fish are gone. Mrs. Parks hopes that the west coast studies should show which "sex reversal" grows larger, and whether they are sexually fertile or sterile. Hamilton admits that the MNR has a "selfish interest" in the experimental work DAMSA is having done because "the science will come back to us".
The final question, the one that seems to make everyone involved with this project nervous, is whether Ontario's anglers are ready to see Crown water turned over to private interests so that they can run these trophy fisheries.
"We believe people will find a quality fishing experience like this worth the cost", says Parks. "We will have to put the access roads in, and we will have to intensively monitor and manage each lake's fishery. It will be up to us to make sure the fish are of trophy size and we will be pushing for a fly-fishing/catch and release/barbless hook type of regulation.
Parks has already hired a consulting firm to establish what, if any, lodging people would prefer when fishing the lakes, and what anglers would be willing to pay for this type of experience. She expects the final results of that report before the end of the year.
And how big, hypothetically of course, could a "triploid brook trout get? "Considering a native, sexually-mature Nipigon-strain brook trout can grow to six or seven pounds in an inland lake, I think you would see them (triploids) get to be 10 pounds", says Hamilton. "That seems to be the magic number being knocked around."
Public comment was invited on the DAMSA program, and local anglers and interested citizens were asked to address the question of stocking sterile (exotic) trout strains into local waters and the question of "Total Controlled Access" on "trophy" waters. Thoughts or questions regarding this proposal were to be in by August 21.
- Gord Ellis
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