FWCP preparing for annual sturgeon release

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A juvenile sturgeon about to be placed in Kootenay River during last year's sturgeon release.

It’s that sturgeon time of the year again! If you have not yet experienced the thrill of releasing a juvenile white sturgeon into the Kootenay River, then April 19, provides the perfect opportunity. This public event is free and runs from 2-4 p.m. at the old ferry landing at the end of Kootenay River Road just west of Creston.

The event is supported by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP), Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations and Kootenai Tribe of Idaho (KTOI).

“They are not like most other fish; holding and releasing these prehistoric-like little creatures is a pretty cool feeling,” says FWCP senior fisheries biologist James Baxter. “It is like holding part of our natural history in your hands since sturgeon have been on this planet for 175 million years.”

KTOI initiated a sturgeon conservation aquaculture program, with funding from Bonneville Power Administra-tion, in 1991. The program, the first of its kind, collects wild broodstock adult sturgeon from the river and raises the juveniles in a hatchery. In 2011, approximately 1,200 juvenile sturgeon will be released near Creston, and more in the U.S.

The 10-month old juveniles weigh about 70 grams and are typically between 15 and 25 centimetres in length. They can grow to the length of a canoe and live for over 100 years.

The Kootenay 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 has been virtually no natural reproduction in the wild since 1974. There are thought to be fewer than a 1,000 adults living on both sides of the border.

“We know that this is a stop-gap measure but it is a very important component of the conservation effort while we, and many other partners, work toward implementing habitat restoration measures that should provide conditions for fish to successfully reproduce in the wild,” says KTOI’s Fish and Wildlife Program director Sue Ireland. “This aquaculture program is critical if we are to avoid this population becoming extinct.”

For more information about Kootenay River white sturgeon, visit www.gofishbc.com/Sturgeon.htm. If you would like more information on the juvenile sturgeon release event contact the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program visit www.fwcp.ca or call 250-352-6874.