Two hundred children from Nakusp, Enderby and Revelstoke, as well as around 50 members of the public, had the chance to release 561 endangered juvenile White Sturgeon, each weighing approximately 400 grams, into the Columbia River at Shelter Bay Provincial Park on Tuesday, May 8th.
It’s an incredible experience for those involved as they pick up and gently place into the water a creature that has been around since the time of the dinosaurs. Additionally, the students learn about the physical attributes and life cycle of these unique fish.
“It’s a great program,” enthuses Mike Keehn of Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC (FFS). “It gives the kids a chance to realize the fish they are holding can live to be over 100 years old and might be out there in the Columbia for longer than their own lives will be. It creates a sense of stewardship of nature.”
The White Sturgeon release program is funded by BC Hydro and the release event was organized by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP), with support from Revelstoke Rod and Gun club, BC Hydro, and the FFS.
The release of juvenile White Sturgeon is required due to the lack of appropriate habitat necessary for the first several months of White Sturgeon’s life cycles, rendering the survival rate minimal to non existent. White Sturgeon several months old or older have an excellent survival rate.
Female White Sturgeon reach sexual maturity at around 30 years of age. This means majority of the adult spawning White Sturgeon in the Columbia date from before the Revelstoke Dam was constructed. This is why it is vital that new juveniles continue to be released, as there is a sizable gap in age between the juveniles released over the past several years and the adult fish already in the Columbia.
Keehn explains that the FFS collects fertilized eggs in June or July from identified spawning sites in areas near Castlegar and Trail. The eggs are brought to the Kootenay Trout Hatchery in the East Kootenays. The next spring, when they have reached 10 months of age, they are released back into the Columbia River.
“The number we release is determined by how many Sturgeon we capture in the river each year,” explains Keehn. “We release a few hundred in the lower Columbia, as well as up here by Revelstoke, where we have a study to determine the survivability for White Sturgeon in this lake.”
Barry Ozero, the Vice President of the Revelstoke Rod and Gun Club, was one of several members on hand to help out at the event.
“The Rod and Gun Club has been helping every year since they started releasing juvenile White Sturgeon in the Upper Columbia,” says Ozero.
For Ozera, it’s a no brainer.
“We will do whatever it takes to keep the environment healthy,” he explains. “We want to see our children and grandchildren have fish like we have had.”
The club has been active in repairing the French Creek Kokanee spawning channel as well as organizing the annual Father’s Day fishing derby at Williamson Lake.
As for the hundreds of students and Revelstokians who came out for yesterdays event, they went home with a new perspective and appreciation for life in the Columbia River.