Fishing for answers: A quiz inspired by grad’s Alberta species identification guide

A user-friendly manual for professionals and hobbyists

Alberta fish expert and nait biological sciences grad shona derlukewichThere are at least a couple of scenarios in which Fishes of Alberta Field Identification, by Shona Derlukewich (Biological Sciences Technology – Renewable Resources ’05), would come in very handy.

The first is a summer fishing trip gone wrong.

Say you’re angling in a southern Alberta watershed. You cast a line and snag what you believe is a cutthroat trout.

It’s not! It’s a westslope cutthroat – a species at risk of disappearing from the province. Fail to set it free and, in some cases, “You could get some really hefty fines,” says Derlukewich.

The second scenario is one she knows too well.

About 15 years ago while working for a client on a fish rescue, where species that have strayed into canals are caught and returned to rivers, Derlukewich misidentified fish. When she submitted a followup report, the biologist in charge responded with a scolding email claiming the data collected on the 50,000 fish couldn’t be used.

Derlukewich felt like it was the end of her career before it started, but she was determined to improve her identification skills. She attended more fish rescues, learning about fins and spots and mouth-shape and more from the likes of Trout Unlimited Canada biologists. 

Today, as a working field biologist and technologist (she's since earned a degree from the University of Alberta as well), a leader in Alberta fish identification, and owner of School of Fish, a consulting and education business, she looks at that problematic rescue differently.

“It taught me to be a better biologist in the long run.”

westslope cutthroat troutIt also led her to write and self-publishing the award-winning Fishes of Alberta.

Over the years, Derlukewich has continued to devote herself to deepening her knowledge about the more than 65 species of fish that call Alberta home, reading voraciously, talking to experts and looking at the fishes themselves, sampled from the environment.

“I became obsessed with trying to understand what these fish are and how we identify them,” says Derlukewich.

By 2013, she was conducting her own workshops and sessions with research and industry groups. In 2015, she completed the sizable task of compiling the data and information she’d collected over the years into an easy-to-use, full-colour manual comprising more than 100 water-resistant pages.

fishes of alberta, by shona derlukewich, open at a lake

It’s the first of its kind in Alberta. It’s also the field guide she’d have liked to have had during that early fish rescue. Now, Derlukewich hopes it will help other technologists who are tasked by industry, government and other groups with assessments aimed to preserve species in Alberta. Knowing what’s in the water, she feels, is foundational to maintaining the health of an aquatic ecosystem.

“That's what I learned at NAIT,” says Derlukewich. “If you can’t identify the species you’re looking at, everything else is not going to fall into place appropriately when you’re doing your report analysis.”

And, perhaps, if you don’t know the spotting pattern on a westslope cutthroat – as shown on p. 52 – you may not be able to prevent a potentially costly mistake on that next fishing trip.

How’s your knowledge of Alberta fish and fishing regulations? Try this short quiz, inspired by Derlukewich’s guide.

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