Trent stu­dent pro­tects wall­eye

Un­der­stand­ing the pop­u­lar sport fish can help them thrive, he says


A Trent Univer­sity re­searcher’s find­ings on walleyes may help bet­ter man­age On­tario’s most pop­u­lar sport fish.

Ay­den Ricker-Held re­cently com­pleted a re­port that shows walleyes have a more di­verse diet than what’s been sci­en­tif­i­cally doc­u­mented.

This new-found in­for­ma­tion will be used to make health­ier ecosys­tems so the wall­eye can thrive on their own, Ricker Held said.

“It could be a piece of the puz­zle to manag­ing walleyes more ef­fec­tively,” he said. Through his work, Ricker-Held ex­am­ined the con­tents of wall­eye stom­achs from Lake St. Joseph, a pro­lific wall­eye fish­ery. He got the idea while work­ing at Old Post Lodge in North­ern On­tario, where he was a fish­ing guide. The fo­cus of his study was to bet­ter un­der­stand the nat­u­ral off­shore feed­ing habits and move­ment of the wall­eye in Lake St. Joseph, where they’re thriv­ing, so that en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists can repli­cate the habi­tat in places where the fish are de­clin­ing. Through his re­search, the mas­ter’s stu­dent dis­cov­ered that wall­eye mi­grate to shal­low water after spawn­ing to feed ex­clu­sively on in­sects. Pre­vi­ous re­search shows that walleyes sur­vive on min­nows and other fish, he said. Un­der­stand­ing all the parts that go into mak­ing a good wall­eye fish­ery — in­clud­ing the “lit­tle things” — is im­por­tant, said Ricker-Held, 23.

“A lot of the time, in­sects get over­looked, but they serve a re­ally im­por­tant pur­pose in the


If a habi­tat be­comes in­con­ducive to the in­sects wall­eye need to sur­vive, it throws off the ecosys­tem, he said. Know­ing what wall­eye need to flour­ish could en­able wildlife man­agers to cre­ate bet­ter habi­tats for in­sects, Ricker-Held said, al­low­ing for ecosys­tems to thrive more nat­u­rally.

“We can man­age the pop­u­la­tion more ef­fec­tively in the fu­ture so that we don’t have to stalk as much and it’s not as much con­tin­ual man­age­ment of the fish­ery.”

Lake St. Joseph is home to many lodges that rely on the fish­ery to draw in tourists, Ricker-Held said.

“Walleyes are a highly soughtafte­r sport fish. They also have a lot of com­mer­cial value, and it im­pacts the lodges and other busi­nesses as well.”

To get the project up and run­ning, Ricker-Held had to se­cure fund­ing, which he said wasn’t so easy. Mi­tacs, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that fos­ters growth and in­no­va­tion in Canada, stepped up and matched the $7,500 con­tri­bu­tion that Old Post Lodge do­nated to launch the study.

“With­out Mi­tacs’s sup­port, it wouldn’t be pos­si­ble.”

Ricker-Held com­pleted the study un­der the su­per­vi­sion of David Beres­ford, en­vi­ron­men­tal sciences pro­fes­sor, and in part­ner­ship with the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Forestry. It will be re­leased in May.

Be­fore go­ing for his mas­ter’s, Ricker-Held re­ceived a joint diploma be­tween Flem­ing Col­lege and Trent in eco­log­i­cal restora­tion. His stud­ies have al­lowed him to delve into work that he’s not only in­ter­ested in but has a pas­sion for.

“It’s great know­ing I’m do­ing some­thing that could re­ally help the ecosys­tem or just fish­eries in gen­eral, and I get to do some­thing I re­ally love.”


Re­searcher Ay­den Ricker-Held takes a closer look at mayflies, a food source for wall­eye, at Trent Univer­sity Fri­day.

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