A juvenile sturgeon ready to be released into the Kootenay River at last year’s sturgeon release.

A juvenile sturgeon ready to be released into the Kootenay River at last year’s sturgeon release.

Over 2,000 sturgeon to be released into Kootenay River near Creston

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On April 18, the public is invited to attend the sturgeon release festival that will be held at the old ferry landing on Kootenay River Road from 2:30-4:30 p.m., following the arrival of the Rick Hansen Relay in Creston. The festival will celebrate the efforts to reinvigorate the sturgeon in the upper Columbia and Kootenay rivers, and will allow the public to participate in the recovery efforts by releasing one of the approximately 2,300 juvenile sturgeon provided by the Kootenay Trout Hatchery.

There will be a canoe entrance of First Nations and government and industry representatives who all work together on this sturgeon initiative, as well as vendor and information tables. There will also be First Nations traditional dancing, drumming and singing in celebration of this momentous event.

“We are very honoured to be playing a part in the recovery effort for the sturgeon, which Ktunaxa have a unique connection with,” said Ktunaxa Nation chair Kathryn Teneese. “We are very grateful for the efforts of all the partners who are working towards this common goal.”

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, which 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.

“This is a great opportunity for the public to connect with nature, and help an endangered species,” said Kevin Megale, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program in the Columbia region. “Events like this encourage all of us to conserve and enhance habitat and ensure this amazing fish species thrives for generations to come.”

The annual sturgeon release event is supported by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (a partnership between BC Hydro, the province of B.C. and Fisheries and Oceans Canada), Ktunaxa Nation council, Lower Kootenay Indian Band, Canadian Columbia River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commission, Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho (KTOI) and FortisBC.

“This aquaculture program is critical if we are to avoid this population becoming extinct,” said KTOI fish and wildlife program director Sue Ireland.

“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.”

The sturgeon release will start at 2:30 p.m. at the old ferry landing and will be followed by a traditional meal at the Lower Kootenay Band complex at 5 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend and take part in both events to support the recovery efforts.

For more information on the event, please visit www.ktunaxa.org/sturgeon.