The Chronicle-Journal/The Times News
Saturday, August 11, 1990

Triploid Fish Offer Lunkers at Price

Imagine a small, crystal clear lake snuggled in the hills of north-western Ontario, far away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, yet less than an hour from the big city. Then imagine paddling a canoe around that lake, casting a fly to actively feeding brook trout, feeling the take of a heavy fish, and then, after a half-hour battle, landing and releasing a brook trout that might weigh into the double digits. Would you be willing to pay a "user" fee to experience quality trophy angling like this close to home?

Lori Parks of DAMSA - "the trophy fish company" - is gambling that you will, and with the help of the Thunder Bay Ministry of Natural Resources and some of the most knowledgeable fisheries people in North America, Parks is busy raising brook and rainbow trout in Thunder Bay that just might attain that double-digit size in small northwestern Ontario lakes. The secret to the huge size of these fish is a process known as "triploiding".

"Triploid" fish 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 get big.

"The interesting thing about `triploids' is that they actually grow slower than normal trout for their first year or two", says Bob Hamilton, MNR district fish and wildlife supervisor 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 Jon Parks, a Yale-educated chemist now living in Thunder Bay. Parks identified a number of small lakes in the Thunder Bay area that might be able to support trout, and, after getting the OK from the district MNR, went about doing surveys on a selection of inaccessible lakes in Adrian, Horne and Conmee Townships.

After a study which inventories 17 lakes, Parks found three suitable for trout stocking. Jon Parks' wife Lori, president of DAMSA, then approached the ministry with the names of the three lakes, in hopes of establishing a trophy trout fishery on these lakes.

"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 winter oxygen problems, and none of them are what we consider accessible."

The DAMSA plan, if it jumps the hurdle of public acceptance, will certainly be among the most unique fishery initiatives ever undertaken in the province of Ontario, if not North America. Not only will it involve stocking sterile "triploid" fish in the wild - never before done in North America according to Lori Parks - 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 lake.

Although everyone involved is optimistic about the DAMSA program, there are still a number of questions yet to be answered. One major question is whether sterile trout actually grow better than normal, sexually fertile trout. A number of "altered trout" are now being studied on the West Coast and it is hoped the results will help determine whether they are worth stocking as opposed to the normal trout.

There is also the question of which sterilizing method is most preferred. Besides the "triploids", there are also manually sterilized fish (by incision) and the so-called "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, 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. Studies should show which "sex reversal" grows larger, and whether they are sexually fertile or sterile.

The final question - the one that has nothing to do with trout and that seems to make everyone involved with this project nervous - is whether Ontario's anglers are ready to see Crown water turned into privately-run "trophy fisheries".

"We believe people will find a quality fishing experience like this worth the cost", says Parks. "We will have to put the road in, and we will have to manage the 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 at the end of August.

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 ten pounds", says Hamilton. "That seems to be the magic number being knocked around."

Public comment on the DAMSA program is welcomed and should address the introduction of sterile trout strains into local waters and the question of "Total Controlled Access" on "trophy" watersheds. Thoughts or questions regarding this proposal should be into the MNR by August 21, 1990.

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