White Sturgeon Conservation Fish Culture Program

NEEF Funding: $4,000,000.00 ($400,000.00 per year for 10 years)

Total Project Budget: $8,551,857.00

Start Date: March 2013

End Date: March 2022

Description:

A comprehensive 5-year study on the Fraser River populations of white
sturgeon, including the Nechako River, concluded the Nechako River
population of white sturgeon is a genetically distinct population, isolated
from Fraser main-stem populations and has experienced a decline in juvenile
recruitment that started in the early 1960's and has resulted no measurable
juvenile recruitment since the late 1960's. Recent research has affirmed
this assertion and the current estimated total population size is
approximately 600 fish.  There is a high probability of extinction within a
few decades without immediate intervention to prevent further declines.

In January 2001, the provincial Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative
was established to address the critical state of the population.  The
purpose of the recovery initiative is to stabilize the remaining population
by preventing further declines, and ultimately to rebuild a self-sustaining
population.

Even if the recruitment problem is immediately rectified, the mature
population would continue to lose numbers of mature fish for the next 25
years to natural mortality given the lag time between juvenile recruitment
and maturation for this population. Without immediate intervention, genetic
diversity will also continue to be eroded. The specific reason(s) for
recruitment failure are not precisely known, and while analysis of this
problem is progressing substantially, recruitment restoration cannot be
guaranteed in the near future. As such, a conservation fish culture is
paramount to preventing extinction of this population, until wild
recruitment can be re-established.

A conservation fish culture program can act immediately serving as an
interim measure to preserve the genetic diversity in the remaining
population, halt the continued loss of juvenile recruitment and initiate the
rebuilding of age structure in the population.  In addition, cultured
sturgeon can facilitate a number of research initiatives that will reduce
the uncertainty associated with many components of the recovery program
including the reason(s) for recruitment failure.

The sturgeon conservation centre has been built in Vanderhoof and will be
operational by May 2014. The capital funding was provided by Province of BC,
Rio Tinto Alcan, District of Vanderhoof and other partners. It will be
operated by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC under the auspices of the
Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative.

$4 million dollars will be provided by Rio Tinto Alcan through Nechako
Environmental Enhancement Fund over the next ten years to operate the
facility. An additional $50,000 per year for operations has been provided
from Rio Tinto Alcan directly. The conservation centre will be able to
produce up to 12,000 juvenile sturgeon per year from up to twelve adult
pairs, helping to secure the genetic diversity of this imperilled population
for future generations.

 

Proponent: Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative in Partnership with Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC

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