Brian Monroe - Brook Trout Research in Algonquin Provincial Park
Brian Monroe

Brook Trout Research in Algonquin Provincial Park

Brian Monroe  
Brian Monroe is a Fisheries Biologist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources' Algonquin Fisheries Assessment Unit (AFAU) in Algonquin Provincial Park

Brian Monroe is a Fisheries Biologist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources' Fisheries Assessment Unit (AFAU) in Algonquin Provincial Park. Brian has been studying Brook Trout, Lake Trout and zooplankton communities in Algonquin Park for 21 years.

Brian became interested in wildlife at an early age. "I grew up on the shores of the Bay of Quinte, near Picton, Ontario, and enjoyed many long hours out on the bay fishing and boating. I also spent as much time as possible exploring the local woods and fields, trying to learn the names of the trees, birds, and mammals that I encountered. A Christmas gift of a small microscope turned my interest more towards the invertebrates that lived in the nearby ponds, marshes, and open waters. Of course, the more I learned, the more curious I became about the life histories of the animals I examined. No one ever suggested to me that I could actually earn a living pursuing this interest, so during high school my career goals shifted back and forth between engineering and chemistry. When the time came to apply to a university, I read about the Fish and Wildlife program offered by the University of Guelph, and learned that there were in fact careers possible in this field. Against the advice of my guidance teacher, I enrolled at the University of Guelph and graduated four years later."

After attending the University of Guelph, Brian took his first job in fishery research at the Fisheries Research Station in Maple, Ontario, where he studied the environmental impact of zooplankton in Lake Erie. "I was actually getting paid for doing something I really liked!" says Brian.

Eventually, Brian would find himself working as a fisheries biologist with the Algonquin Fisheries Assessment Unit, but this was not his first introduction to Algonquin Park. "My first exposure to Algonquin Park was a ten day canoe trip with a friend when I was 17 years old. Despite our primitive equipment and heavy food bags (this was before the can and bottle ban days), I thoroughly enjoyed the environment, and came back for many more trips in the next few years. Later, while working at the Fisheries Research Station in Maple, I took advantage of many opportunities to visit the Harkness Laboratory of Fisheries Research on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park. After my work on Lake Erie zooplankton was finished, I spent three summers in Algonquin Park collecting and analysing zooplankton samples from about half a dozen lakes. Then a biologist job at the Algonquin Fisheries Assessment Unit was posted. I applied, got the job, and have worked there ever since, with the last few years as supervisor." The summer of 2004 marked the 40th anniversary of Brian's first trip to Algonquin Park.

Why study Brook Trout in Algonquin Park?

"Algonquin Park is a great place to study Brook Trout, because they are probably under less stress here than in areas adjacent to the Park. Over-fishing and habitat loss have greatly reduced their numbers outside the Park, especially to the south where they were once just as abundant. What we learn about Brook Trout in Algonquin Park can therefore serve as a benchmark by which to evaluate Brook Trout populations in other areas. Luckily, there has already been a great deal of research carried out in Algonquin Park on Brook Trout, most of it by scientists, such as the late Jim Fraser, working out of Harkness Laboratory of Fisheries Research. We rely heavily on the knowledge they have accumulated when conducting our own studies."

Why is it exciting to do what you do?

"For someone such as myself who enjoys the outdoors Algonquin Park is an ideal place to work, especially at the Algonquin Fisheries Assessment Unit. Although the Ontario Government provides the scope and many of the specific projects in our annual work plan, there are opportunities in this job to ask questions, design and carry out surveys, then analyse and interpret the data collected. What more could a fisheries biologist ask for? OK, a larger budget would be nice too!"

What changes have you seen in fisheries research methods over the years?

"Probably the biggest change is the increased reliance on computers for our day-to-day work. When I first started working at Maple, there were no personal desktop computers. Data were either analysed manually or through a remote mainframe computer. Data storage was cumbersome and expensive. Now I spend a good part of my day sitting in front of computers that are much faster and can store much more data than the old mainframes. The software for processing the data has also improved each year."

"Another big change in recent years has been the availability of the Global Positioning Systems (GPS). We are increasingly incorporating GPS into our routine work programs, not only to record sampling locations but also to replace older technology. For example, back in 1995 we began working on a method to create more accurate depth maps, using an acoustic depth sounder and a GPS receiver. With this system, we travel over the surface of a lake in a boat, recording a bottom depth and a position (latitude and longitude) every two seconds. The position is accurate to within a few metres. The depths and positions are linked and stored on a laptop computer, enabling us to collect thousands of data points on each lake. Back in the office, the data are quickly processed by a computer program that can generate custom-made contour maps, cross-sections, and three dimensional maps. It can also calculate areas and volumes for any section of the lake that we define. Processing that took days or weeks of work 20 years ago now can be done in hours. Since 1995, as GPS equipment has decreased in cost and improved in accuracy, we have incorporated many new features into our methods. Some examples of our maps have been reproduced in The Friends of Algonquin Park book entitled Lake Depth Maps of Algonquin Provincial Park."

Research Facility
Brian Monroe conducts his fisheries research out of the Algonquin Fisheries Assessment Unit located at Algonquin Park's East Gate complex.

Take a 360º Tour of the Fisheries Assessment Unit

Suggested Reading
Educators: Learn more about Algonquin’s habitats, download readings and worksheets from the Educator Resources section of the Web Site, or you may also learn more through the following publications:

Lake Depth Maps of Algonquin Provincial Park
With the help of new technology, Park staff have surveyed 24 lakes to produce colour maps showing depth contours as well as describing other key lake characteristics such as fish species present, maximum depth, and other interesting lake features and historical facts.

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Fishes of Algonquin Provincial Park
Fishes of Algonquin Provincial Park introduces readers to the 53 currently occuring Park fish species with over 70 outstanding coloured photos of live fish. Written by Dr. Nick Mandrak who conducted the definitive study of Park fishes in the 1990's, and his mentor E.J. Crossman of the Royal Ontario Museum, this book breaks new ground in helping a wider audience get to know and appreciate the fish fauna of a major Canadian park.

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The Raven Talks About Fish and Lakes
This book contains seventeen articles about fish and lakes that originally appeared in Algonquin Park's newsletter, The Raven, between its inception in 1960 and 2003. Whether you are an angler, naturalist, teacher, or just interested in a good read, The Raven talks about Fish and Lakes will be a great resource.

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