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Fish - general characteristics

Fishes are cold-blooded vertebrates that are specially adapted for life in the water. In general, some of these important adaptations include:

  • Streamlined, muscular bodies that taper at the head and tail, allowing efficient movement through an aquatic environment
  • A mucous covering that waterproofs the body and reduces friction in the water
  • Single and paired fins along the body that allow for steering
  • Gills - a network of thin-walled capillaries that allow efficient oxygen extraction from the water
  • Many species of fish also have a swim bladder, a flexible gas-filled organ, to help maintain buoyancy in the water.

How many fish species live in Alberta?

There are approximately 65 species of fish swimming in Alberta waters. Of these:

  • 54 of these species have established populations in the province, and include a mix of both native and introduced fish.
  • 11 species have all been introduced to the province, either through legal stocking or through illegal or accidental release. These fish are present in limited numbers in Alberta.

18 fish species have been identified in this section of the website as they are fish classified by Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) either as popular game species, or as species at risk.


Alberta's fish species can be divided into 12 families, or general groupings based on similar characteristics. These families are:

  • Acipenseridae – Sturgeon family
  • Catostomidae – Sucker family
  • Cottidae – Sculpin family
  • Cyprinidae – Minnow family
  • Esocidae – Pike family
  • Gadidae – Codfish family
  • Gasterosteidae – Stickleback family
  • Hiodontidae – Mooneye family
  • Ictaluridae – Freshwater catfish family
  • Percidae – Perch family
  • Percopsidae – Trout-perch family
  • Salmonidae – Salmon family

Fish species from six of these families are represented in this website as follows:

Acipenseridae – Sturgeon

Sturgeon are scaleless fishes that have haunted the waters of the northern hemisphere since dinosaurs walked the earth. Some characteristics of this family include:

  • rows of bony armour covering their bodies in place of scales
  • long pointed snouts with barbels (fleshy whiskers) near the mouth
  • asymmetrical tail fins
  • large size and long lifespan

In Alberta, lake sturgeon are the only representative of this family. See:

Esocidae – Pike

Pike are fishes common in the northern hemisphere. Some characteristics of this family include:

  • long, rounded bodies
  • long snouts that resemble duck's bills
  • teeth present on their jaws and the roofs of their mouths, and on their tongues

In Alberta, northern pike are the only representative of this family. See:

Gadidae – Codfish

While fish in this family are primarily saltwater dwellers, Alberta is home to burbot, a freshwater species. See:

Hiodontidae – Mooneye

Mooneye are named for their wide eyes which, surprisingly, lack the cone structures that allow animals to see in colour. Other characteristics of these river-dwelling fish include:

  • deep bodies
  • semi-buoyant eggs that float close to the water's surface

The two species of fish in this family, mooneye and goldeye, live in Alberta. Only goldeye are represented on this website. See:

Percidae – Perch and Related

Perch are generally identified by their two dorsal fins, the first fin supported by sharp spines, and the second by flexible rays.

There are five species of perch in Alberta, and three of those species are represented on this website. See:

Salmonidae – Salmon, Trout and Related

Many of the fish in this family are very popular as sport fish. As a result, several species have been introduced to Alberta. The following 11 species of this family are represented on this website:


Page Information

Updated: Jun 12, 2015