Tiger trout coming to Alberta fishing ponds

The province has been stocking lakes since 2015 and is now making the species available to private fish hatcheries

The eye of the tiger and the thrill of the fight can be seen and felt in Alberta.

Tiger trout, a sterile hybrid of Brown and Brook trout, are being made available to the province’s private fish hatcheries, which will in turn have them available later this year and future years to farmers who want to stock private ponds.

The brightly coloured trout have been available in some other provinces for years and Alberta Environment and Parks has been stocking provincial lakes with Tigers since 2015, said Craig Copeland, fish culture manager with that government department.

From 2012-15, biologists studied the risks and benefits of introducing Tiger trout and concluded their triploid set of chromosomes, which render them sterile, limited the risk of adding them to Alberta lakes and ponds.

“There was a lot of due diligence making sure that this species of fish wasn’t going to harm the natural fish,” said Copeland.

“The beauty of the Tiger trout, it’s a sterile fish. It can’t reproduce. Plus we’ve added another component where we’ve triploided the egg and made it sterile. So its 100 percent bulletproof from being able to reproduce.

“There’s a lot of decisions that were made behind the scenes to make sure that the Tiger trout was suitable for Alberta lakes.”

With good water conditions and food availability, the trout can live eight to 10 years.

“The reason why the anglers like catching the Tiger trout is the way it bites the hook,” Copeland added.

“It sort of hunts from below… it attacks, swims very fast, hits the bait and then comes right down, and so if you’re fly fishing, they hit that fly and they go right down and you get an immediate fight.”

Max Menard, who operates Smoky Trout Farm, is one of the few private fish hatcheries in the province. His farm received some fertilized Tiger trout eggs last month and he anticipates small fry will be available to pond-stocking customers this fall and in spring 2022.

“They’re quite a bit more aggressive than other strains of trout so they’re going to hit the hook a lot harder, so there’s a little bit more excitement in that respect,” he said about the appeal of the species.

“They’re also just a beautiful fish. They’ve got quite vibrant colours, even more so than the Brook trout, which they’re crossed with.”

He knows of one eight-year old Tiger trout at a government hatchery that weights about 21 pounds.

”It’s not quite as big as some of the Rainbows. We’ve had customers with Rainbow trout over 25 lb., which is a really big fish. That’s trophy-sized fish.”

Tiger trout eat what other trout eat, and like some others, they will eat minnows and smaller fish. Menard and Copeland both hope the Tigers can help control Prussian carp in some water bodies. The invasive carp have taken over some lakes through rapid reproduction and the resulting depletion of available food.

Tiger trout are being made available to private businesses through a government licensing change encouraged by Alberta Environment and Parks minister Jason Nixon.

“The beauty is that the private sector in the aquaculture industry, they’ve always been asking if they could buy Tiger trout eggs from us. Minister Nixon deserves a ton of credit on this file. He has pushed fisheries to think outside the box and try to increase fishing in Alberta but also look at it from an economic standpoint and how can we help out the private aquaculture industry.”

A juvenile tiger trout, approximately 14 months old, is ready to be transferred for lake or pond stocking. | Alberta Environment and Parks photo

Menard is one of the beneficiaries and said it will give him more options to offer to customers wanting to stock ponds, dugouts and recreational fishing sites. However, supplies will be limited for all private hatcheries.

That’s not as much of a problem given recommendations that Tiger trout be stocked in much lower numbers than Rainbow, which are most commonly purchased for private use.

Menard’s business thrived last year as more people sought affordable outdoor recreation due to pandemic-related restrictions and lockdowns.

“We’re anticipating the demand will be fairly good this year as well, so we’re feeling very fortunate,” Menard said.

He’ll be charging a premium for Tigers because of their limited supply and slower growth. Though the price hasn’t yet been set, he thinks a $1.50 per fish premium over the $3.25 per fish for six to eight-inch Rainbows is likely.

“It’s actually quite a cheap hobby. You look at stocking a pond or dugout on your property, for the enjoyment that you can get out of it for a few hundred dollars a year in fish investment, you get quite an enormous amount of enjoyment for your family and friends,” he said.

“I have many customers who have never put a hook into their pond. They just like to go out in the evening and throw some feed out and watch the fish jump. I’m more of a fan of catching them and eating them.”

Information on trout stocking in provincial water bodies can be found at mywildalberta.ca/fishing/fish-stocking/default.aspx.

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