Townships biologist keeps busy
With Earth Day just around the corner, it seemed timely to interview someone whose job keeps them quite connected to the environment every day of the year. Sylvain Roy, of Sherbrooke, is a McGill University-trained biologist who has
worked with the Quebec department of natural resources and wildlife, in its many transformations, for over twenty-five years.
Mr. Roy’s work first took him to Anticosti Island where he worked as a game warden for six years, then to Lac Megantic for another six years, followed by another six years in Chibougamau. “I didn’t regret having to live and work in those areas at all; the work was quite varied. Anticosti Island was like nowhere else – it’s a very distinct place and I worked with Aboriginals and Inuit there. It was an experience of a lifetime,” said Mr. Roy in an interview with the Stanstead Journal.
Most recently, he returned to his native region of the Estrie where he is responsible for the aquatic life: the fish in our lakes and rivers. “We study the fish populations and then make changes to the regulations when necessary. We want to keep the populations healthy and keep the fishing good,” he continued.
Counting the fish in a lake seemed like an impossible task for a biologist, and it is. “We do creel surveys with recreational fishermen, studying their journals and counting how many fish they catch,” he explained. Work like this leads to new rules going into effect, like the one beginning on April 25th that will have fishermen throwing back any Lake Trout sixty centimeters long or less. “In general, the fish populations in the Estrie are good; the lakes are in good shape. We do a lot of fish stocking in the Estrie.”
That stocking, of course, begins with the collection of fish eggs from live fish, also part of Mr. Roy’s job description. “We catch the fish in October, extract the eggs, then bring them to the fish hatchery in Baldwin,” said the biologist. After the eggs hatch and grow into little fingerlings, they are moved to bigger ponds. Eighteen months later they will be released into local lakes. “We are helping things along by taking the eggs because, in their natural environment, only 1% of the eggs will become fish.”
According to a recent study, the work of local biologists in maintaining good fish populations is crucial. “A study was done on 30,000 fish that we raised. Each was marked (it took three technicians three days to do that formidable task) before being released into the wild. After we released them, 78% of the fish caught were marked fish. That’s when we could see that our investment was worth it,” said Mr. Roy.
Biologists also work to bring back threatened aquatic species, like the ‘Copper Redhorse’, an unusual fish that lives exclusively in Quebec and lives longer than other species, up to thirty years, and the Striped Bass. “The Striped Bass was totally gone so they got specimens in New Brunswick and re-introduced them into the Saint Lawrence. They have had good success with that.”
Mr. Roy has also been kept busy in the Megantic area following last July’s railway disaster. “One hundred thousand litres of oil went into the Chaudiere River. The clean-up had to stop in October, but we have a good idea where the oil is. We’ll start testing again soon to see where the oil has moved to decide where and how to clean this year,” said Mr. Roy. Fortunately, because the oil dispersed rapidly, as yet the aquatic life has not been greatly affected. “That was good news to us. Lac Megantic was more of a human tragedy than an environmental one.”
This summer, Mr. Roy will visit Lac Aylmer and Lac St. Francois to study their walleye populations. “We’ll adapt the size regulations if necessary.”
Just as the animals and plants in the environment are all connected, so must an environmental biologist work within a network. “I’ll be working on Lake Memphremagog this year. We work a lot with American biologists around that lake. I also work with people in the forestry industry: people in the forestry department and foresters working on pri-
Brian Gagnon, NG, Larry Royea, RSVG, Chaplain Eugene Jones, and Howard Foster Warden, chewing the fat and telling !!stories!! vate land. I talk to them about the importance of not disturbing little rivers and creeks, especially not driving across them. Even the smallest creeks, even when they are dried up in the summer, should not be disturbed. They are the most reproductive areas for species like the Speckled Trout and endangered salamanders, because the predators can’t get to them as easily when they’re in a tiny creek. Our work to raise awareness about the environment is very important to do; I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Let’s hope this biologist is right about the direction we’re headed in, because it doesn’t always look that way. Alberta tar sands development is continuing at a relentless pace and the environment was hardly an issue during the last Quebec provincial election.
“It’s still hard to find jobs as biologists, and when you do, they are precarious. There are never enough biologists to do all the work and when the budget needs to be cut, we’re the first department to get cuts.”
“We also have lots of indoor work to do, paperwork and meetings, but that’s part of the job, interpreting information and drawing up plans like how to clean up the Chaudiere River. But what I like most about my work is the contact with the people that I have to work with and the contact with the natural environment – we are never outside enough!”
Biologist Sylvain Roy (left) examines a Lake Trout caught on
Lake Memphremagog with game warden René Houle.