Town­ships bi­ol­o­gist keeps busy

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Sher­brooke

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.

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