Annual sturgeon release next week at former West Creston ferry landing

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Hatchery-raised sturgeon caught in August during routine sampling at the delta where Kootenay River drains into Kootenay Lake.

Hatchery-raised sturgeon caught in August during routine sampling at the delta where Kootenay River drains into Kootenay Lake.

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 (photos from last year), taking place at the former West Creston ferry landing (at the end of Kootenay River Road) from 2-4 p.m. May 6.

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 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 Kootenai Tribe of Idaho Fish and 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.”

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 Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C.’s Kootenay Trout Hatchery.

The public event is co-ordinated by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program with support from the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, B.C.’s 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.

On May 6, approximately 1,000 10-month old juvenile white sturgeon, each weighing an average of 75 grams and measuring between 15 and 25 centimetres in length, will be released near Creston, with more being released in the U.S. They 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 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.

For more information white sturgeon, visit gofishbc.com/Sturgeon.htm, and for more information on the release event, contact the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program at 250-352-1300.

—FISH AND WILDLIFE COMPENSATION PROGRAM