Every reach of water in the Ram River watershed is now open to a choice between Catch & Release or a 2 fish/ 35cm daily limit. This includes the N Ram, Ram Canyon, the headwaters, as well as all tributaries. Anglers who care about what we have need to pay attention right now and take 3 or 4 minutes to vote – because management of the Ram drainage is now a social media survey and results of the survey are binding.
How we arrived at having to take a vote/survey: The October North-Central Alberta Native Trout Survey was so convoluted and tried to accomplish too many things across too many watersheds. Within it the Dept appeared to be trying to sneak in a change of regulations to remove the S Ram canyon Catch & Release regulations and replace them with a 2 fish/35cm per day regulation without being clear as to what the current regulations are (Catch & Release), nor why they were put into place, in order to allow harvest to appease a perceived loss of angling opportunity as they attempted to force through a lower Ram R closure. Several of us called the Dept on various aspects of that survey (the science and process behind it) and how utterly confusing to the lay angler it was. Given how few people are involved on the government side and how few people in the public are stringently watching this process like a hawk, things teetered on getting too personal behind the scenes – there has been a great deal of various communications behind the scenes recently. To be completely fair, let’s take a look at the Ram River survey. While it still does not adequately address the ramifications of the two choices we are being presented, let’s at least embrace the opportunity without beating up our government friends too much.
When Martin Paetz had the first load of cutthroat fry ready to spill into the Ram River back in the mid-1950s, he likely didn’t have many thoughts beyond “what an incredibly gorgeous river in which to stock cutthroat trout”. And I suspect that day he didn’t envision a Ram R angling management map like the one at right. There are many reasons it looks as it does. Social demands of this once fishless series of reaches and tributaries have certainly changed the past 60 years. Truly, the N & S Ram Rivers are essentially two small streams that come together to form a small river, albeit that the system flows with enough volume and force for 2 months a year to have cut such a magnificent canyon. Yet, for 60 years, there really hasn’t been a management pause that really looks at how we provide opportunity for the varying values and expectations of Alberta anglers in the whole of the watershed.
Certainly, anglers stepped up after extreme floods in the early 1980s forced a reality check of how fragile the N Ram population is. And anglers again stepped up when access was opened into the formerly remote and rugged S Ram canyon, showing that carrying capacity simply cannot keep up with any harvest demands based on late 1990s access and use – that carrying capacity is finite and absolute and would wither under today’s pressures. Hence the Catch & Release reaches we have today on the N & S Ram. At the headwaters of the Ram drainage are special Forest Land Use Zones that restrict access types and seasonality of use. Through the angling season, there are severe motorized access restrictions to few, specific atv trails. The horse and foot access severely limits access and use of the fishery comparatively. It’s here that there has been an ongoing allowance of trout harvest in concert with a back country spirit. The population is doing very well. Further downstream, below the chutes of the Ram at the confluence, the cutthroat population is vibrant in the largest water. Proportionate to the population there aren’t as many large cutthroat – there are simply that many smaller fish. It’s this lowest reach that has the native bull trout that are causing us pause for management considerations. When you look at the above map and its complexity of regulations for the size of water we’re discussing, it’s simply too convoluted.
From where I sit, pressed to come up with a system that looks at current and likely access use for the next 20 years, as well as looking at carrying capacity and ability to produce finite numbers of specific large trout and anglers enjoyment of them, as well as having to include a mandate for allowing for some harvest, all while making a relatively small watershed’s angling regulations streamlined, the proposed map makes sense. Kudos to our government friends. Remember, government has to look at all parameters and values, so we best be realistic. If we vote to deny harvest in the Ram watershed, government will find it elsewhere in the region, and that points directly at our brown trout: are you willing to force the headwater tributaries in the Ram to be C&R at the risk of Stauffer Cr, Prairie Cr, or the S Raven being opened to harvest? Our government lives in a world of trade-offs, so be extremely clear in how you think, how you vote. Deny harvest in the Ram watershed and government will find it elsewhere at the expense of our other non-native trout. (Note – government is hyper-sensitive to any more perceived loss of harvest opportunities, especially our east slope waters. While I mention our brown trout streams, this is just to pause us to look at the larger, regional perspective – if we force all-out C&R here, another non-native population will be looked at as a trade-off for harvest opportunity. That is simply how government operates at present).
For me, the survey is quick & easy: green & yellow allow harvest of 2 trout over 35 cm. Pink remains catch & release.
As you might have read in my response to the original North-Central Native Trout Recovery Survey, based on desire to keep even a viable population of trout in the N Ram and S Ram canyon reaches, there can’t be any allowance of harvest. Both rivers have clearly demonstrated in the past that they are one variable change away from collapsing. Change the C&R variable on the N Ram, given how intense the ATV highway along it is, likewise the ATV and hiking highways along the S Ram, and those reaches simply won’t keep up. Green is actually seeing an increase in the minimum size limit from 30 to 35 cm, which continues to allow harvest for a back-country experience. So too the yellow on Fall Creek – which would unify it with the headwaters regulations.
We have to remember that the Ram R drainage cutthroat is a non-native fishery that was put in place for the enjoyment of all Albertans. For C&R purists, well, that is only one value. Surely there are a couple of reaches within the watershed that can handle some harvest where access is limited in respect to the back country spirit in the headwaters, as well as some in Fall Cr, where carrying capacity dictates that the actual harvestable numbers of trout will be relatively small.
Whatever you do, vote in the survey. It has been expressed to me that the vote is 100% binding. Like it or not, we could lose the C&R sections of the N & S Ram Rivers if voting shows public support for that change. Whatever you do, vote, and make damned sure your friends vote as well. Given these management plans tend to change every 20 years, if you do not take 5 minutes to vote, we’ll lose what we have.
Social media surveys do not allow for full and proper communication of the ramifications and implications of the choices, nor do they allow well thought out discussion among users. And my vote, as educated as it may be to the Ram system, is easily out-voted by lay anglers who only want opportunity to harvest fish, carrying capacity and long-term ramifications be damned. It’s a vote biased by government precluding involved discussion. So, it’s imperative you vote.
The cutthroat below is one of many Ram R cutthroat trout a friend & I enjoyed on our last day of the 2017 season. I’ve caught this big, old male 5 of the last 6 years from the exact same slot in the exact same pool over a dozen times. If harvest is allowed in the pink section of the new mgt map, these fish will simply be wiped out of the N Ram and the S Ram canyon, there is no argument about that. They are simply sitting ducks that are all too easy to target and remove and take far too long to replace.