The importance of protecting and sharing our waterways


By Myriam Bergeron, M.Sc, Executive Director and Biologist, and Alexandra Déry, M.ATDR, Project Manager and Biologist, at Saumon Québec

Canada’s land and waterways belong to everyone: anglers, swimmers, kayakers and businesses. When out on the water, we all need to keep these different users in mind—along with the regulations. They have been put in place to help us share our natural resources in a harmonious manner, without causing undue damage to flora and fauna. The following recommendations will help you enjoy Quebec’s waterways in a way that’s safe and enjoyable for all. While these points pertain to Quebec, many apply elsewhere in Canada.

Know the rules

Before going on or in any new river or lake in Quebec, it’s your responsibility to be informed of the regulations. These include permitted activities and types of watercraft, rules of conduct, if there are any vulnerable species in the area, etc. Also be prepared for some parks to charge a daily admission fee (registration) for activities such as boating or hiking. These fees help pay for managing and maintaining the site.

If you’re not in an officially designated park but see pavilions and picnic tables along the banks of a salmon river, it means you’re in what’s called a “hunting and fishing controlled zone” (commonly known as a ZEC in Quebec). These pavilions and tables have been set up for anglers and are paid for and maintained by ZEC funds. When not in use, however, they can be enjoyed by anyone—provided you do so in a respectful and non-damaging manner. Bear in mind that these facilities are sometimes on private land for which the ZEC holds rights of way and use.

Swimming is allowed in salmon rivers, unless there are signs specifically prohibiting it, which is often the case at salmon pools. It’s understandable why anglers might get irked at a group of boisterous swimmers splashing around in their pool—or at a group of canoers paddling right through it.

©Photo: GettyImages

In Quebec, fish habitats are protected by the Wildlife Habitat Regulation (CQLR, Chapter C-61.1, r.18) under the Act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife. Some activities are always prohibited, regardless of the river, such as crossing a river in your truck or ATV, as well as all forms of motorized travel in a fish habitat, including the entire area within the natural high-water mark. Crossing or parking in this area, even temporarily to land a boat, is considered an offence.

Also prohibited is building any structure (riprap, fill, gravel, dams) that could modify the habitat of fish or impede their free movement. We may not realize it, but even our smallest actions have a cumulative effect that could potentially lead to highly damaging impacts over the long run. Analyses of salmon rivers show that not all habitats are always used by the same fish, nor are they used all-year round. Salmon naturally move around a lot. At various times, adult and juvenile salmon use thermal refuges, streams, shaded areas and resting areas, etc. based on current conditions and needs.

Be respectful of others

Anglers have just as much right to fish in peace and quiet as others do to enjoy their chosen activity. If you’re out on your boat, signal your presence when approaching anglers and visually assess the situation to determine where you should pass by. If an angler gives you instructions, slow down, control your boat and listen carefully to them. Take extra care to avoid hitting the bottom unnecessarily so as not to disturb the aquatic life.

Take your trash back with you

It’s basic common-sense advice, but unfortunately littering is still an ongoing problem in Canada, and not only along river banks. Trash belongs in trash cans, not in the river, on the ground in the parking lot or along the access road to your favourite spot.

Clean your boat and equipment when you leave the water

This will prevent you from inadvertently introducing invasive alien species (IAS) in the next location you visit. IAS include a wide range of living organisms, not just plants. The term IAS refers to any living organism (terrestrial and aquatic animals, insects and microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi) introduced outside its natural range, and whose establishment and spread may become a threat to the environment, biodiversity, economy or society. IAS are found in some rivers and lakes in Quebec, and we must all work together to stop their spread. Cleaning is a quick and easy way to protect the environment and avoid transporting these unwanted species from one place to another.

When in doubt, consult the nearby office of the ZEC network to find out what activities are allowed in the  sections of the river you’ll be enjoying. Protecting wildlife and sharing rivers isn’t all that hard. We just need to know the rules and respect one another. That includes respecting the ecosystem.