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Jurassic fish: Public to release juvenile sturgeon into B.C. waters

juvenile sturgeon being released to the wild
A juvenile white sturgeon is released into the wild during one of the 2014 sturgeon release events in B.C. supported by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program.

Join others in releasing sturgeon into wild at Trail, Arrow Lakes and Creston  

Posted by Rob Klovance

You can wait five weeks for the arrival of the movie Jurassic World to get a fictitious glimpse into the prehistoric. Or you could travel to Trail, Creston or to Shelter Bay on the Arrow Lakes next week to not only see, but touch, the real thing.

Rotating between those three locations May 5-7, the annual Juvenile White Sturgeon Release event offers members of the public a chance to touch these "ancients of the deep." They also happen to be pretty darn cute, especially considering they're a species that's been around since the age of the dinosaurs, and that they can grow to the length of a canoe.

The public is invited to help release the juvenile sturgeon at all three events, which were organized by the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program:

  • The Trail release, hosted by the Upper Columbia White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative (UCWSRI), will take place at Gyro Park, on Tuesday May 5, between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
  • Near Creston, the release at the Old Ferry Landing, is scheduled for 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6th.
  • And the Arrow Lakes release, also hosted by UCWSRI at Shelter Bay, will be on Thursday May 7, between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

For  more information on the release events, contact the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program at 250 365 4550.

The white sturgeon can grow to be as big as six metres in length and 600 kilograms, about 3.5 times heavier than the NFL's biggest player: 6-foot-7, 364-pound New York Jets' nose tackle T.J. Barnes. The juvenile version of the sturgeon, however, is shorter than the length of a football at 15 to 25 cm long.

Since 2000, nearly 137,000 juvenile white sturgeon have been raised and released into the Upper Columbia River, from BC Hydro's Hugh Keenleyside Dam on the Arrow Lakes, to Kettle Falls, Washington. This has been a vital measure, as the population of white sturgeon in the Canadian portion of the Upper Columbia River has been hit hard by very low survival of eggs through the larval stage for more than four decades.

As a result, the population was listed as endangered under the Species At Risk Act in 2006.

It's much the same story on the Kootenay River where, since 1992, about 220,000 juvenile sturgeon have been released, with an estimated survival rate of 20 per cent after one year of release. If they make it to three years of age, then that survival rate jumps to 93 per cent.

While the survival rates are good, the Kootenay River white sturgeon population also continues to face major challenges, and their future remains uncertain.

“There continues to be virtually no natural recruitment – that is to say the survival through the egg, larvae, and into the juvenile stage – in the [Kootenay] river, and this has been the case for more than four decades now,” says Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s Fish & Wildlife Program Director, Sue Ireland. “This stop-gap measure of raising and releasing juvenile sturgeon has been very successful and is a critical one in the conservation effort, but much effort is still needed towards implementing habitat restoration that should provide conditions for fish to successfully reproduce in the wild.”

boys releasing juvenile sturgeon
Two brothers release juvenile sturgeon at 2014 event.

A new method shows promise

There is a new twist to the Sturgeon Aquaculture Program. In addition to using broodstock adults, biologists recently started experimented in raising juveniles in the hatchery from eggs and larvae collected in the wild. The pilot year in 2014 was successful and approximately 1,200 juvenile sturgeon, of the 4,000 in total being released in 2015 in Canada, have been raised using this method.

This method has been demonstrated to represent higher numbers of wild adults in the juveniles (i.e. increased genetic diversity) that are stocked compared to the traditional broodstock methods. Going forward, the collection of wild eggs and larvae will serve as the main conservation aquaculture tool for white sturgeon locally, with collection of broodstock adults considered as needed

The number of fish released in the future will likely fluctuate, and will depend on success of collecting eggs and larvae.

All the juvenile sturgeon are raised at the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC’s Kootenay Trout Hatchery through a program funded by BC Hydro and supported by the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program.

About the Kootenai River white sturgeon

The Kootenai River sturgeon population is endangered in both Canada and the U.S. due to a variety of human impacts, including the operation of Libby Dam that has altered the natural flow of the river. There are thought to be about a 1,000 adults living on both sides of the border.

The Creston public event is coordinated by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program with support from the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, BC Hydro, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C., FortisBC, and the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area.

For more information about Kootenai River white sturgeon, visit gofishbc.com/Sturgeon.htm.

Arrow Lakes event information

Though releases of hatchery raised sturgeon into the Arrow Lakes have been occurring since 2007, very few individuals have been recaptured as a part of ongoing monitoring programs. It will take time to be able to tell whether recovery efforts in Arrow Lakes Reservoir are making a difference and, in an area as large as Arrow Lakes Reservoir, finding and capturing small white sturgeon is extremely difficult.

About 40,000 juveniles have been released since 2007, and monitoring will continue in order to determine survival rates.

The population of sturgeon in Arrow Lakes Reservoir is estimated at roughly 50 adults and are known to spawn near Revelstoke.

For more information about the Arrow Lakes sturgeon release event call 250 365 4550, and to find out more about the UCWSRI visit www.uppercolumbiasturgeon.org.

About the sturgeon recovery initiative

The sturgeon recovery initiative is a partnership of more than 20 stakeholders from government, First Nations, industry, community and environmental organizations. Sturgeon recovery includes research to determine the causes of decline, release of hatchery-reared juveniles, restoration of habitat, and monitoring and management of water flows.

Funding support is being provided by BC Hydro, FortisBC, Teck, Columbia Power Corporation, and the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program.

Find out more about the Upper Columbia White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative (UCWSRI) visit www.uppercolumbiasturgeon.org.