A young visitor releasing a juvenile white sturgeon at the 2015 event.

Annual sturgeon release coming to former West Creston ferry landing

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It’s time to touch the “ancients of the deep” and release your very own prehistoric-like fish into Kootenay River at the annual juvenile white sturgeon release, taking place at the former West Creston ferry landing on Kootenay River Road from 2-4 April 27.

Since 1992, approximately 220,000 juvenile sturgeon have been released in their historic range in the Kootenay drainage, 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 over 93 per cent.

While the survival rates are good, the Kootenay River white sturgeon population 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 river, and this has been the case for more than four decades now,” says Sue Ireland, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s fish and wildlife program director. “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.”

The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho has been working hard for many years to ensure that white sturgeon remain part of the local ecosystem. It initiated a sturgeon conservation aquaculture program, with funding from Bonneville Power Administration, in 1991. The program, the first of its kind, collects wild broodstock adult sturgeon from the river and raises the juveniles in the tribal hatchery in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and in the Kootenai Tribe’s new Twin Rivers sturgeon and burbot hatchery just outside of Bonners Ferry.

The public event is coordinated by the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. On April 27, approximately 1,000 10-month-old juvenile white sturgeon, each weighing an average of 60 grams and measuring between 15 and 30 centimetres in length, will be released near Creston, with more being released at other release sites in Idaho, Montana and B.C. These sturgeon can grow to the length of a canoe and live for over 100 years.

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, which has altered the natural flow of the river. There are thought to be about 1,000 adults living on both sides of the border.

For more information about Kootenai River white sturgeon, visit gofishbc.com/Sturgeon.htm, and for more information on the release event contact the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations at 250-354-6333.

—MINISTRY OF FORESTS, LANDS, AND NATURAL RESOURCE OPERATIONS

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