Each year NWSRI’s Technical and Community Working Groups write grants, solicit funding and provide countless volunteer hours in order to undertake a number of projects aimed at researching the problems facing the Nechako white sturgeon as well as keeping the plight of the sturgeon within the publics’ eye. The TWG is responsible for identifying the reasons for the decline of white sturgeon in the Nechako watershed, and for the design and implementation of habitat protection, restoration and management options, while the CWG focuses on increasing the public’s awareness and knowledge about the recovery process, as well as the ecological problems facing the Nechako white sturgeon. Following we have highlighted some of our recent research and outreach initiatives. To learn more about our programs and/or for complete project details please refer to our Annual Reports.
This project is proposed for spring 2016. The objective of the sediment cleaning project is to attempt to remove built-up sediment from all or a portion of the gravel pads that were placed in 2011. The clean pads will remain to be monitored for spawning activity and sediment infilling rates. Biological monitoring will involve the use of hatchery eggs placed on the cleaned gravel. Phyiscal monitoring will involve monitoring the sediment infilling rates and relating that to our ongoing Nechako River sediment transport investigations.
In the spring of 2011, we added two pads of cleaned and sorted gravel substrate in two sections on the bed of the Nechako River near Vanderhoof, BC. Our objectives are to determine if what we found with sturgeon egg to larvae development in a captive setting is similar to what we think is happening with sturgeon spawning and development in the wild. We continue to monitor the pads to evaluate white sturgeon spawning, egg incubation and early larval rearing success for the endangered Nechako white sturgeon (biological monitoring). We also monitor the sediment infilling rates of the gravel we placed (physical monitoring). This project is not meant to be a permanent solution to the problem but rather is being used to aid our understanding of the problem in its true setting, the Nechako River spawning grounds, for the purpose of informing future habitat restoration. The 2013 reports on this project are available on the reports page. To see some photos of this and other related projects click here, or check out the photo gallery page.
The capture of broodstock provides valuable information because it allows us to continue to monitor the reproductive adults. It is vital to any hatchery related operations because captured broodstock is how we obtain eggs and milt. This program was not carried out in 2010 or 2011 due to the lack of funding for the program and more importantly the lack of funding to construct a permanent recovery facility. The broodstock program resumed in the spring 2014 and continues through to today with operations in preparation for spring 2016 broodstock! To see some photos of this and other related projects click here, or check out the photo gallery page.
UPDATE! Since the weather has been warmer this winter it is anticipated that ice may be off the river by mid-April 2016. Sturgeon spawning is in part a response to changes in water temperature so we are already preparing for this years broodstock program. We continue to strive for the recovery plan goal of 12 pairs of adults (24 adults) for broodstock. The target goal for capture in spring 2016 is a maximum of 10 females and 12 males to be brought to the hatchery. There are currently three females held at the hatchery; two of those females will spawn this year (2014 and 2015 captures will spawn this year) and one will remain in the hatchery until she further matures to spawn next year. The making of juvenile sturgeon is thanks to the successful funding for a recovery facility. The facility is allowing us to produce, raise and release up to 12,000 juvenile sturgeon each year back into the Nechako River.
Capture and releasing juvenile sturgeon allows us to provide an estimate of the number of young sturgeon in the Nechako watershed. Those findings are key to determining the degree of recruitment failure – we estimate how many young sturgeon there are based on the number of new and previously captured young sturgeon, as well as our effort expended, and then use this information to predict the number that will survive to be adults and reproduce. We require this information to determine if recruitment failure is occurring and the severity of the failure. Generally, fewer young sturgeon caught, and the higher the recapture rate, the worse news that is for the population because that means few new juvenile sturgeon are surviving to replace the adults that die. To see some photos of this and other related projects click here, or check out the photo gallery page.
We use radio-telemetry to monitor the sturgeon’s migration from over-wintering sites, and determine their movements towards the spawning grounds located in the Vanderhoof area (River km 132-139). Understanding the timing of spawning related movements provides important information regarding other environmental factors that affects the timing of spawning (e.g. water temperature) and also indicates the timing for the initiation of egg mat sampling. The subsequent capture of eggs then provides more specific information about egg production, and the locations and timing of spawning events. We use drift nets to catch sturgeon larvae emerging from spawning locations (near where eggs were detected). During spawning, we monitor until the fish have left the spawning area and for some time afterwards to see if they return to the spawning grounds. We also have a number of permanent monitoring stations that allow us to determine when tagged fish swim past them and the direction of their travel. These data are very important to help us determine the habitats that are important to sturgeon throughout the year as well as to aid our information regarding recruitment failure. To see some photos of this and other related projects click here, or check out the photo gallery page.
Some recently completed research projects carried out by the NWSRI TWG include:
Juvenile (Acoustic) Monitoring Project – Approximately 200 juvenile white sturgeon hatched in the pilot hatchery in the spring of 2008 were reared through the winter in Vanderhoof for release in the spring of 2009 (as 1-yearold fish). Thirty of the 200, 1-year old white sturgeon were implanted with tracking tags and their movement post-release was monitored. Please refer to the 2009-10 annual report for details of this project.
Larval releases & monitoring drift of 15 day old larvae -- The primary objective of this project was to release 15 day old hatchery-reared larvae into the Nechako River and to monitor their drift rates through various habitats within the river. Please refer to the 2009-10 annual report for details of this project. To see some photos of this and other related projects click here, or check out the photo gallery page.
Effects of River Substrates on the growth, development, and survival during early ontogeny – this Master’s thesis project was undertaken by Marcus Boucher through the University of Northern British Columbia. Marcus defended his thesis in 2012. A brief write-up on his project may be found in our 2009-10 and 2010-11 annual reports.
In 2013, the 7thInternational Symposium on Sturgeon (ISS) took place in Nanaimo, BC, July 21-25. NWSRI members delivered three presentations: (1) Stewardship and harm reduction featuring the Emergency Sturgeon Live Release Boat Kit Program; (2) Juvenile set line methods; and, (3) An early summary of recruitment failure.
The main goal of the Healthy Watersheds for Sturgeon school program was to develop a full curriculum level unit and lesson plans for grades 4-7 students that was focused on sturgeon and healthy watersheds (including PowerPoint presentations and supplementary material). The program was piloted to selected schools within SD91 in 2013-14.
In September 2014-15, the Healthy Watersheds for Sturgeon program was made available to all elementary schools within School Disctrict 91. Program packages were provided free of charge. Currently (2015-16), the program is undergoing an evaluation. We are determining the number of schools/classrooms using the curriculum and soliciting feedback from those teachers and students. The goal of the evaluation is to determine ways to improve the program whether in content, delivery, or promotion of the program to schools.
This program is available free of charge to elementary schools within SD91. Program packages are also available to all schools regardless of District for the base charge of materials and shipping. If your school would like to receive the Healthy Watersheds for Sturgeon Program (grades 4-7) please contact the NWSRI Recovery Coordinator.
Elementary and High School Presentations
In 2010 and 2012 the NWSRI offered presentations to grades 4 and 5 (elementary) and grades 10 and 11 (high school) students within the Nechako watershed (school district 91). The presentations were designed to increase awareness regarding the decline of the Nechako white sturgeon population, habitat loss, and recovery activities in hopes that these children will grow up to be our future white sturgeon ambassadors and promote stewardship of sturgeon within their communities.
The First Nation Food, Social and Ceremonial salmon fishery is known to result in the by-catch of mature, breeding sturgeon. The Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative (NWSRI) in partnership with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council (CSTC) developed an Emergency Sturgeon Release Boat Kit which contains all of the tools necessary for the successful release of live sturgeon from a gill net. The kit also contains netting web patches as a temporary fix for nets if they have been damaged during the live release of a by-caught sturgeon. The Boat Kit pilot program began part way through the fishing season in 2011 when we invited fisher-family members in the Nechako watershed to participate. During the 2011 gill net salmon fishery 11 sturgeon were live released using the ‘Emergency Sturgeon Release Boat kit’ by two of the participating bands (Saik’uz and Tl’azt’en) and there was one sturgeon mortality. In 2012, 11 sturgeon were live released with two sturgeon mortalities reported. In 2013, 14 sturgeon were live released and three sturgeon mortalities was reported. In 2014, 12 sturgeon were live released and one sturgeon mortality was reported. In 2015, seven strugeon were live released with no mortalities reported. Fifty-five sturgeon released over five years may seem like an insignificant number, but with so few sturgeon left, every sturgeon counts.
We also created and produced the video: “Every Sturgeon Counts: How to Live Release a Sturgeon from a Gill Net” which details how to live release sturgeon caught during the salmon gill net fishery and how to mend a net damaged from a live release. The video is 45 minutes long and contains footage of the live release of a large and small sturgeon from a gill net using the tools in the boat kit. Click the Boat Kit Program text to learn more about this program. To view this video on U-Tube click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhrEJUEi-ow&feature=colike
In 2011, 6 assemblies were provided to the following First Nation Bands within the Nechako (5 Bands) and Upper Fraser (1 Band) watersheds: Saik'uz First Nation, Nak'azdli First Nation, Tl'azt'en First Nation, Takla First Nation, Nadleh Whut'en First Nation, and Lheidli T’enneh First Nation. At each assembly we discussed sturgeon biology and conservation measures as well as played the video “Every Sturgeon Counts” that was created to go with our emergency sturgeon release boat kit. We also provided a sign-up sheet to identify fisher families interested in receiving a boat kit and solicited feedback on additional programs that may be developed to Save-Our-Sturgeon (SOS).
The NWSRI also has also produced signs and brochures. The first brochure is aimed at the general public and includes information on NWSRI, sturgeon biology, and potential causal effects for the decline in sturgeon. Our second brochure was developed in conjunction with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and focuses on the First Nation Food, Social and Ceremonial salmon and char fisheries. This brochure includes some Dakelh language (Carrier First Nation language). NWSRI and CSTC distributed the brochure during the 2011-2015 salmon fishery because this fishery is known to result in the by-catch of mature, breeding sturgeon. Please visit the brochure or signage tab to download a copy of our brochures or sign.
Please visit the Events tab for further details and pictures of our past events and also to see where we will be next!
By far our most popular outreach event our first Save-Our-Sturgeon (SOS) event took place in October 2006 and was attended by 1,100 schoolchildren from School District 91 where they each released a hatchery reared 4 month old juvenile sturgeon into the Nechako River. This event took place again in 2007 and 2008 where between 900 - 1,100 juvenile sturgeon were released at each event. Unfortunately due to funding constraints in 2009, there was no funding for a pilot hatchery and consequently no juvenile sturgeon for the kids to release into the Nechako River that year. Regardless, the CWG decided to continue the annual SOS event and with a little innovation put together an engaging and fun filled day attended by over 200 local school children who learned about white sturgeon biology and conservation, and water quality in the Nechako River. In 2010, due to funding constraints for a coordinator position and a recovery and hatchery facility to produce juvenile sturgeon there was no SOS event. In 2011, again with no juvenile sturgeon to release due to a lack of a recovery facility the CWG decided to host a SOS Spring Spawning celebration. The Spring Spawning event was attended by approximately 300 people at Riverside Park in Vanderhoof on May 29, 2011. The date and location of the event corresponded with the wild sturgeon spawn which typically occurs the last week of May through the first week of June. Three male sturgeon were released at this event.
UPDATE - In 2015, with the successful operation of the Conservation Facility, we resumed our SOS release events! The first Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Facility juvenile sturgeon were released on May 4, 2015, by ~600 elementary children in SD91. The juvenile sturgeon produced each spring are held over the winter to allow them to grow large enough to escape most predation risks before their release. The SOS release event will take place again on May 13, 2016! Please visit our Events page for more information and pictures of our SOS Events!
NWSRI has been an active participant in Rivers Day in Prince George normally partnering with the booth supplied by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. However, in 2010, the NWSRI hosted the first ever BC River’s Day celebration to be held in Vanderhoof at Riverside Park. We felt Riverside Park was an appropriate venue for NWSRI since it is adjacent to the only known Nechako white sturgeon spawning grounds and provided an excellent opportunity to keep the plight of the sturgeon alive in local residents. In 2011, we again participated in Rivers Day in Vanderhoof. In 2012, we attended Rivers Day in partnership with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in Prince George and in Vanderhoof. The event in Vanderhoof had noticeably grown in popularity with a number of organizations now in attendance.
In 2013 both the cities of Vanderhoof and Prince George did not hold River's Day events. River's Day resumed in 2014 and 2015 and the NWSRI was a major attraction offering information on sturgeon biology, ecology, and our research and stewardship programs. Please visit the events page for pictures of past events.
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