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First Nechako Hatchery Sturgeon Released into the Wild

By Go Fish BC, 🕔Tue, May 5th, 2015


  


(Vanderhoof, BC) - They have spent a year growing and thriving in the Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Centre hatchery and on May 4 they will join their family members in the wild. But their contribution to the recovery of the Nechako white sturgeon goes far beyond simply increasing the population. They are the first from the new hatchery in what will be a long line of sturgeon that will contribute to the recovery for this endangered population.

Half of the 1,250 sturgeon raised at the hatchery were released in April to coincide with ice-off in the river and an early spring. The release is slightly lower than initially expected due to water quality issues and high river temperatures during the critical first feed period in 2014. However, the fish that are ready for release have been raised beyond the planned 150 to 200 gram size, reaching an average of 550 g and up to 900 grams. These fish are much larger than what most sturgeon predators along the Nechako encounter, which is expected to substantially increase their survival rate. Fish released at this size are equivalent to a 3 year old wild fish.

This release also begins a major next step in the research around juvenile habitat requirements and complements ongoing research to understand earlier life stages. All fish released from the facility will be tagged with micro-chips so they can be individually identified and 30 have radio transmitters that can be tracked by boat, airplane or fixed stations. Tracking the sturgeon will contribute to ongoing data collection on survival rates as well as fish movement and habitat use. The juvenile fish released this spring will become mature adults in 30 to 40 years.

The movement of the radio-tagged fish can be tracked without having to recapture them. Half of the radio tags will be assigned to 150 gram sized fish, the annual target size for the hatchery reared sturgeon. The tags placed on them have enough battery power to transmit data for approximately 1.5 years. The remaining 15 tags are assigned to the larger fish, giving researchers the opportunity to place larger tags capable of transmitting data for up to 8 years. In addition to gathering data on behaviour and survival rates, behaviour of the larger fish will be compared to smaller fish, increasing the knowledge on additional life stages.

Several major research projects are expected to provide enough information to begin planning for restoration of spawning and incubation habitats within a five year timeframe. The studies will provide a better understanding of adult spawning site selection and sediment movement and deposition patterns as they relate to flow management and the clearing of bottlenecks along the river.

“While we have a fair amount of information about the cause of this decline and the requirements for successful egg and larval incubation, we need to learn more about the specific steps that can be taken to rebuild a self-sustaining the Nechako sturgeon population” says Cory Williamson, Manager of the Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Centre and Chair of the Technical Working Group. “This is a huge step forward on three fronts. We are rebuilding a population, researching the causes of the decline and working with a highly engaged community to fix the problems for these fish.”

The white sturgeon population has declined from roughly 5,000 in the mid 1900’s to about 600 fish today, most of which are over 45 years of age. The lack of young sturgeon in the Nechako means that an entire generation is already missing. The Nechako River sturgeon females spawn every three to five years at only one known location near Vanderhoof. Males normally spawn every second year.

The centre was built by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC with the support of partners including the provincial government, First Nations, Rio Tinto Alcan and the District of Vanderhoof. It is open for tours every Thursday afternoon from 2:00 to 3:00 pm or by appointment. Thanks to the support of volunteer guides from Vanderhoof, additional tours are planned for the summer months.

“The community is committed to the success of this project and it is exciting to see the first year come to fruition,” says Wayne Salewski, Chair of the Community Working Group. “Excitement has been building about seeing this first generation enter the wild. We are really looking forward to learning from these fish and building on the accomplishments.” 

For more information contact:

Cory Williamson, Hatchery Manager Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC

T: 250-567-6673 E: cory.williamson@gofishbc.com

Stacy Webb Director, Marketing and Communications Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC

T: 604-222-6753 E: stacy.webb@gofishbc.com

 


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