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Fish and Fisheries

Fish in Hotel Lake

 

Amongst the wide variety of wildlife that live in and around Hotel Lake are four fish species.  This webpage is dedicated to learning more about the Threespined Stickleback, the Peamouth Chub, the Coastal Cutthroat Trout and the Prickly Sculpin.  How they came to live in Hotel Lake, how they thrive and how they are managed or protected, are amongst the questions that are addressed below.

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Freshwater Fisheries Management in BC

 

Fisheries are a federal responsibility under the Constitution Act of 1867 and the federal Fisheries Act is the primary fishery management instrument in Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is responsible for commercial fisheries, tidal-water recreational fisheries and salmon fisheries in non-tidal waters. The federal government also oversees the Species at Risk program.

 

Originally, the federal government was responsible for the management of all fisheries and, in BC, various trout species were cultured to stock lakes and rivers in support of freshwater recreational fisheries. This changed in 1937 when the federal government, while retaining jurisdiction over all marine, coastal, and tidal fisheries, transferred responsibilities to B.C. for freshwater recreational fisheries. This included the delivery of hatchery programs to stock lakes and rivers. To that end, ownership of hatchery facilities for recreational fish species in the province was also transferred to British Columbia.

 

British Columbia, home to numerous species of freshwater fish which include a range of fin fish, shellfish and crustaceans (such as crayfish) was henceforth the delegated authority under the Fisheries Act for freshwater fish governance, conservation, habitat management and recreation of non-salmon freshwater fisheries.

 

The freshwater fisheries hatchery program was operated by the government of B.C. as part of the provincial fisheries program until 2003, when the government determined that this program could be delivered externally via a newly created non-profit organization called the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC. The ownership of all freshwater hatcheries was transferred to the FFSBC at this time. While the Society maintains all aspects of fish culture from breeding to release, they work very closely with provincial fisheries biologists, who determine what fish will go where, including decisions regarding species, strain, ploidy (the number of sets of chromosomes in a cell, or in the cells of an organism), and numbers per lake.

Since 2003 the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC has been engaged in stocking  more than 800 lakes and rivers throughout BC. Information about the stocking of Hotel Lake with Coastal Cutthroat Trout can be obtained by going to the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC website and clicking on “Stocked Fish” and “Lake Reports”: Let us do that for you,...just (click here).  Even quicker, we have extracted the most recent report of 2018-2022 for Hotel Lake. When looking at the "Life Stage" column, keep in mind that juvenile fry, fingerling and yearling size fish are not of catchable size for a year, or more, following release. Also, notice the increase from 250 per year to 500 in 2022 and repeated in 2023; we will explain that as you read-on.

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In 2005, just two years after the formation of FFSBC, the Ministry of Environment Fish & Wildlife published the “SUNSHINE COAST LAKES 2005 LAKE SURVEYS, HOTEL LAKE”. (a similar survey on Garden Bay Lake was also done at this time). The purpose of the survey was to assess fish stock status and water quality, evaluate the current fish stocking program, and assess the health of fish populations. Today the information in this 18 year-old study serves as an important foundation for understanding the fish and their habitat in Hotel Lake.

 

Hotel Lake was, in 2005, classified by fisheries managers as a General Use lake meaning it might support wild and/or stocked fish and generally have moderate to high angler use due to ease of access. At that time, the goal for General Use lakes in Ministry of Environment’s (MOE) Lower Mainland Region was to “Maintain or expand where possible accessible angling opportunities through the stocking of hatchery fish, or management of wild populations” 


From this survey we learn that stocking of Hotel Lake began in 1933 and, for a time, included rainbow trout fry. However, since 1965, cutthroat trout has been the only species stocked. Beginning in 2001, cutthroat trout stocking transitioned and focused on triploid (3N) Taylor stock coastal cutthroat trout. The " Triploid 3N" designation involves a sterilization process that creates sterilized fish. We include the following paper from the FFSBC titled: "Why We Stock Triploid and All-Female Trout" which is well worth reading for a better understanding of the lake stocking program.

We also learn from the study that, because threespine stickleback remains were found in the stomachs of all 7 of the cutthroat trout examined, we know that these tiny resident fish are a "dominant food source" for the imported-stocked species. The capture of fish during this study included a number of Peamouth Chub and a fourth species, identified tentatively as Prickly Sculpins. Several terms appear in the study: "sinking net" can be understood at this link to a government document, see page 15,  and "fork length" is explained in the image below.

 

You can read this 2005 study in our library or (Click here and read it online)

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Today, the licensing of freshwater recreational fishing is administered under B.C.’s Wildlife Act.  The FFSBC relies almost entirely on fee revenue from freshwater angling licence sales to deliver the recreational stocking program, as well as several other fisheries-related initiatives. Additionally, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation receives 100% of a conservation surcharge revenue collected concurrently during angling licence sales. These fund are used to provide grants for conservation projects across BC.

 

While the fish stocking program costs approximately ten million dollars a year to support, the social and economic benefits to local communities are significant; freshwater anglers spent almost $500 million in 2015 to go fishing.  To achieve conservation and recreation objectives, the province seeks to manage both wild and stocked fish populations through the FFSBC. While the majority of stocking efforts are aimed at addressing recreational fishing demand, stocking is also used as a conservation tool to bolster at risk populations.

Due to varied development histories as well as the geographic and climatic diversity of the province, fisheries management differs considerably from one region of BC to another. The maps below show the present-day management regions.  The second map depicts region No. 2, Lower Mainland (which includes the Sunshine Coast), and the associated link-box expands on No.2 region’s specific management priorities and initiatives. 

Threespine Stickleback

 

Populations of freshwater Threespine Stickleback are often found in low-elevation BC coastal lakes and streams.  They are descended from ocean-dwelling Threespine Stickleback, that are common in coastal marine waters throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

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The freshwater threespine sticklebacks in Hotel Lake are essentially land-locked and may be considered as direct descendants of populations dating back to the end of the last ice age, some 13 thousand years ago.

 

Today these stickleback are a small scaleless fish generally less than 8cm long. They have three dorsal spines, an anal spine, two pelvic spines and a series of lateral bony plates. These inherited morphological structures are believed to be of prime importance in defending against predator fish and birds.  When threatened, a stickleback can simultaneously flare out its pair of pelvic spines and three dorsal spines, making it difficult for predators to swallow them. Earlier on this page you have access to a 2015 report in which these stickleback, despite their spiny defences, are described as an important food source for the Coastal Cutthroat Trout that are annually released into the lake.

Colouration can be complex but usually silver-green or brown/green on top with silver sides.  Large males are black and often have red on fins; breeding males have blue or green sides, bright orange/red belly and breast. Large females have a pink throat and belly

 

In Hotel Lake, the stickleback inhabit quiet weedy shallows over bottoms of sand and mud among emergent plants along shorelines. They feed mainly on plankton or bottom organisms or organisms living on aquatic plants.  They form loose schools except when spawning.

 

Stickleback reach adulthood in 1-2 years and do not live beyond 4 years. They spawn in spring and summer and it is presumed that they die at the end of their first breeding season. In the spring and early summer, it is not uncommon to find a few dead stickleback floating on the surface of Hotel Lake, or alternatively, resting on the bottom.

 

Eggs are deposited in freshwater in a nest of plant material made by the male on the bottom in shallow water. A nest may contain eggs of several females.  Males guard the eggs until the eggs hatch in about a week and thereafter guard the fry.

 

Stickleback - Endangered Status?

 

Scientists have discovered that exceptional stickleback populations have evolved with partial or complete loss of spines and/or lateral plates etc. Some of the most divergent of these "unarmoured” sticklebacks have been identified in three lakes on Haida Gwaii.  Another unusual discovery are rare populations of threespine stickleback “pairs”, which live exclusively in either limnetic (entire water column above the bottom) or benthic (bottom of lake)  environments.  Such exceptional populations are now considered to be “Endangered” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Finally, stickleback are believed to be highly susceptible to extinction from the introduction of aquatic invasive species. Invasive aquatic species continue to increase in many Canadian lakes, the nearest of which are on Vancouver Island and also the lower mainland.  Just as important, stickleback are also susceptible to habitat loss and degradation from water extraction and land use activities in the surrounding landscape.

Peamouth Chub, 

Mylocheilus caurinus

The Peamouth Chub is a member of the western minnow family and is commonly found in most freshwater systems across the Pacific Northwest. It prefers lakes and slow-moving portions of streams and will concentrate where aquatic vegetation is present. Feeding on a variety of small, aquatic invertebrates, they are believed to live up to 8 years. Generally sized between 15cm and 25cm, they can reach a maximum size of 35cm.

 

They reach sexual maturity after 3-4 years. During the spring, when water temperature reach 12–18°C,  spawning generally takes place in shallow streams and along lake shores which offer a gravel or rubble bottom. In Hotel Lake, spawning in and near the mouth of Hotel Creek has been observed and the dates recorded; we are pleased to present these recorded spawning dates below. You will notice that the most recent spawning date in 2023 was much later than in past years.

1995    May 07

1996    May 03

1997    April 24 - 27

1999    April 23

2002    May 02

2003    May 01

 

2007    April 22

2009    May 01

2011    April 29 - May 01

2015    April 17 - 19

2019    April 21 - 22

2022    May 07 (spawning observed, video taken)

2023   May 13 (spawning observed, video taken, May 15, Peamouth Chub fry seen swimming upstream into Hotel Lake)

Some sources suggest that chub may spawn several times and our data supports that.  During spawning, females broadcast eggs within 3 feet of the shoreline where they adhere to the bottom rocks or substrate. Depending on age and size, females may produce between 5,000 to 30,000 eggs.

 

Juveniles remain congregated in schools, close to shore and in shallow vegetative waters until late summer when they join the adults who generally stay in deeper waters during daylight hours.  In Hotel Lake juvenile peamouth chub may serve as forage for the cutthroat trout that are stocked in Hotel Lake annually.

The peamouth chub upper body presents as grey/green/black in colouration, and white colouration along its abdomen. Their fin colour is yellow to orange.   Like the other members in the minnow family, peamouth chub lack an adipose fin (on upper back between the central dorsal and tail fin).  During spawning season, orange stripes appear below the lateral line.

Artist Joseph Drayton, working with the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842 rendered this exceptional coloured drawing of Mylocheilus caurinus, (Synonym: Mylocheilus lateralis) as he saw it near Fort Vancouver (Victoria) in 1841.  Thank goodness we have artists! Drayton's work not only captures the enduring characteristics of our peamouth chub, but also helps us appreciate its history and tenure. 

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At Hotel Lake, on May 7, 2022, large numbers of peamouth chub were seen in a mass spawning event in the shallows approaching and in the mouth (origin) of Hotel Creek.  Video was taken with large numbers of smaller male fish swarming the larger females.  On that day Hotel Creek was still flowing moderately during the spawning activity and especially so over the clean gravel and sand of the lake and creek-bed.

 

Watching this spawning activity raises a question: While it is our understanding that the peamouth chub are permanent residents of Hotel Lake, is it possible that some of the peamouth chub or the eggs that are laid might be swept downstream by the current in Hotel Ceek and towards Mixal Lake?

Coastal Cutthroat Trout

The coastal cutthroat trout introduced to Hotel Lake are infertile and they spend their entire lives in the freshwater of the lake. Most of the literature about the anadromous (migrating up rivers from the sea to spawn) coastal cutthroat trout, its habitat, migratory and spawning locations and behaviours simply do not apply. So we proceed with a much simplified narrative of these fish and their lives in our lake.

Coastal cutthroat trout that remain in freshwater may have home territories from which they never stray. This species can be found in nearly every lake and stream along the coast that empties into the Pacific Ocean — including those on coastal islands — from southern Alaska to northern California. It has also been introduced (stocked) into some lakes.

Cutthroat trout are so named because of a distinctive reddish slash under its lower jaw. Body colouration is usually a dark greenish to blue on its back, transitioning to olive green on the upper sides, then to silvery on the lower sides and belly. Its is spotted all over, including the belly, head, and fins. Its lower fins can be yellowish or orangey-red. The image above courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service serves well to present these characteristics.

Most of what we know about this fish is from the 2005 survey which we hope you will find time to read. Stickleback and chub are the main source of food and the little sculpin, if it can be found, might be food as well.

Perhaps the most significant characteristic of these infertile fish is that, without life stresses of the reproductive process, they live longer and grow larger.  This factor certainly seems to be of prime importance to anglers.

Another important beneficiary are the anodonta mussels in the lake. Mussel breeding starts when males release sperm into the water and females “inhale” the sperm. Embryos develop into microscopic larvae called glochidia. At some point the female releases enormous quantities of glochidia into the water.  The glochidia must then attach themselves individually to the scales or gills of a "host fish" that may be swimming nearby. Past studies on other lakes in the region found anodonta glochidia present on prickly sculpin, stickleback, dolly varden and cutthroat trout.


Special Report - 2021

In the fall of 2021 a fish stock assessment was done at Hotel Lake. Following is a summary of the findings and recommendations from that assessment. We thank the author Chris Hegele, Aquatic Biologist from the Ministry of Land, Water and Resources Stewardship, for sharing this information on Hotel Lake.  The text that follows in blue font is transcribed without alteration and includes a personal note from Chis at the bottom. The use of the following format (n=93) means the number of fish caught.

 

  • The lake was being stocked with 250 yearling Triploid (sterile) cutthroat trout every spring.

  • Hotel Lake is currently managed as a regional fishery but is performing like a trophy fishery. Cutthroat trout (target species) and peamouth chub (n=93) were captured in 2021.

  • Large schools of threespine stickleback were also observed near shore and on the surface while conducting the assessments.

  • Hotel lake produced the largest fish of all the lakes sampled in 2021. Twenty-two (22) cutthroat trout were captured in 2021, ranging in size from 281 mm to 595 mm one trophy sized CT was live released from the sinking net.

  • Approximately 50% of CT were captured in the floating net set in a variety of mesh sizes. These fish were likely chasing the stickleback to and along the shore. It is this abundance of food that is likely resulting in these large, trophy sized fish.

  • Mean CT fork length in 2021 (387 mm) was slightly lower than that observed in 2005 (438 mm); however, mean condition factor in 2021 (1.19) was slightly higher compared to that observed in 2005 (1.13).

  • All fish captured were immature (i.e., undeveloped gonads) suggesting no natural recruitment of CT. Given the low capture rate (n=22), healthy condition factor, significant abundance of food, and easily accessible lake, doubling the current stocking rate from 250 to 500 CT yearlings would improve angler catch rates while still maintaining healthy fish.

 

Chris Hegele also added these comments:

The lake offers a great angling opportunity. This lake is unlike most other coastal lakes in that it appears to be quite productive, resulting in larger fish than you would normally find. Most of the fish were quite large (see above), several of which would be considered trophy sized. You will notice in the summary that the stocking rate was doubled. Simply put, the fish are quite large, relatively few in number and there is a significant abundance of prey (stickleback) that Cutthroat love. Anecdotal reports suggest that these fish aren’t the easiest to catch. So the theory is that doubling the stocking rate to 500 will increase angler success while still maintaining healthy, good sized fish.  

Prickly Sculpins

Prickly sculpins range from western British Columbia to California. Sculpins, being negatively buoyant, are generally benthic organisms, typically inhabiting the bottom of lakes or streams on sandy, cobble, or boulder shorelines.

Sculpins are bottom foragers that consume small insects, and other small prey. Adults likely consume larger prey. Prey items are highly variable and likely dependant upon local availability; eggs, for instance, can be a key prey item for sculpins.

If you can ever find one one, they appear camouflaged, mottled dark brown, olive-green, or grey with a white to yellowish underside. A dark spot on the back edge of the first dorsal fin is usually present and, there are three irregularly-shaped blotches below the dorsal fin. The fins sometimes have black bars. A long anal fin is prominent. A pore in the very centre of the underside of the lower jaw is visible head-on. Despite the "prickly" nomenclature, it is the inland-dwelling fish that is prickly while the coastal sculpins do not have many prickles. This fish is usually about 7 centimetres long but can reach 15 to 30 cm.

 

These sculpins reach maturity at 2-4 years and have a maximum lifespan of about 7 years. They spawn in the early springtime, usually between March and June, when water temperatures reach 10°C. Males may court multiple females in a single nest which is often located under small rocks, or branches. Females then deposit up to 30,000 eggs in the nest. Males guard and fan the eggs to oxygenate them until they hatch.

We looked and looked and will keep on looking but for now all we have is this tiny bit of footage of what we believe to be a juvenile prickly sculpin in Hotel Lake.

Bringing the Fish in Hotel Lake into Focus

The stickleback is our senior-citizen and has lived in the water-filled geographic depression that we call Hotel Lake since the end of the ice age.  They have lived for some time with our peamouth chub. Both of these species have survived together for thousands of years.  We see the chub and stickleback juveniles in summer months sheltering in the shallows. Also in the shallows is the mysterious prickly sculpin, exquisitely camouflaged and very hard to see or attack, as it lurks along lake bottom substrates. Later each year the chub retreat to deeper water as they grow to adulthood.

The new comer who doesn't really belong but nevertheless seems to be fitting in well, is the infertile coastal cutthroat trout that has been annually introduced into Hotel Lake. Their infertility prevents them from reproducing and potentially becoming an invasive species.  This fish is highly managed (with government oversight) to specifically provide sports fish for anglers.

The small and shallow Hotel Lake faces many issues. The provincial re-stocking program, with a narrow focus on anglers and an annual replenishment of a single species of fish (coastal cutthroat), seems to be beneficial. However, the protection of the lake's catchment and riparian environments, which benefit the wildlife in and around the lake, including the fish, needs more attention.  A freshwater ecosystem, such as Hotel Lake, can be particularly vulnerable and its value as habitat for organisms compromised when fresh water is extracted, diverted, contaminated, or contained for human use.  The province must not overlook the increasing pressures of development and the potential destruction of riparian areas or recreational overuse as we have seen happen in other much larger lakes such as Okanagan and Cultus Lakes.

 

Sharing this story about the fish in Hotel Lake is incomplete. We said at the beginning of this page that our goal was to gather information and share with you how these fish thrive and how they are managed or protected.  That story, we have discovered, is complicated beyond our expectations and we have yet to venture into the initiatives of provincial ministries that share such responsibilities:

Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy

Ministry of Forests

Ministry of Land, Water & Stewardship

So we will keep "fishing" for more information and share that with you soon.

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