help save the nechako white sturgeon

Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Centre

NWSCC

Conservation Fish Culture 

The Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Centre hatchery program is dedicated to maintaining genetic diversity and conserving the population. It is recognized that the hatchery program is not a permanent solution for white sturgeon recovery, however, it will aid in providing time to research, implement, and monitor the more permanent solutions required to achieve the ultimate goal of a self-sustaining Nechako White Sturgeon population, such as restoring critical sturgeon habitat. The hatchery is used to rear sturgeon eggs into one-year old sturgeon for release into the river, however many research projects and programs also run out of the hatchery. The results from all these projects add to the growing body of knowledge for this unique fish and will help in the recovery process.

Objectives of the NWSCC:

  • To produce the next generation of sturgeon that will spawn naturally in the Nechako River. 
  • To conserve genetic diversity within the Nechako white sturgeon population.
  • To grow sturgeon to 1 year of age to get them through the critical recruitment failure stage.

The NWSRI would like to acknowledge Rio Tinto, the Province of BC, Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, the District of Vanderhoof, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada for their support and dedication to the creation of this facility and conservation program. 

Broodstock Capture 

Brood captureThe broodstock capture program underpins the success of the breeding plan for the endangered Nechako white sturgeon. This program captures wild adult sturgeon in breeding condition to use to seed the hatchery program for the coming year. The Breeding Plan currently calls for the production of up to 12 adult females and from 12 adult males in a factorial mating design (up to 144 crosses).

Objectives

  • To capture 12 female and 12 male mature sturgeon, which supply eggs and milt for the conservation fish culture program.
  • To assist NWSRI research programs such as the application of radio and acoustic tags, or tracking of tagged adults to inform programs such as spawn monitoring.
  • To monitor and assess the health of the adult sturgeon population.

Wild Egg Capture

Unlike salmon that build a redd (gravel nest) to lay eggs, sturgeon broadcast their eggs and milt into the water column to mix in the current. The eggs swirl in the water and drift downstream before sinking. Sturgeon eggs are therefore found downstream of where adults are detected during spawning.The eggs are sticky and adhere to whatever substrate they land on. Ideally, if the substrate is clean gravel and cobble, the eggs can fall between the rock spaces and are better protected from predators. If the eggs land on sandy or silting substrate, the sand and silt can adhere to the eggs causing them to suffocate. As well, they are more exposed to predation and strong currents if there is only sand and silt, or sand filled gravel substrate. 

The Wild Egg Capture program sets out to sample for and collect wild spawned eggs in the Nechako River with the following objectives:

  • To confirm wild spawning activity in the river, and relate back to river conditions and spawning behaviours/habitat preference prior to egg detection.
  • To collect wild eggs for rearing within the Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Centre, to bring these eggs past the critical stage of recruitment failure and ensure genetic diversity is maintained in the population.

Egg matsFreshwater Fisheries Society of BC along with Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, place egg mats on the river bottom within and downstream of the known spawning area. Any wild eggs that fall on the egg mats stick to it and crews can then collect these eggs to take back to the Conservation Centre to be reared in the hatchery. 

There are strict collection procedures for harvesting and transporting the eggs back to the hatchery to ensure they get there safely, and the hatchery continues to improve the method for rearing wild eggs. Despite these measures, many of the eggs that are collected on the mats do not survive. They are either in poor condition (covered in sand or silt), are not fertilized or simply do not survive past the first few days. Hatchery staff along with researchers collect samples for analysis into the possible causes.

Larval Collection

During some years, crews use fyke nets to sample for wild larval sturgeon. The most recent larval sturgeon was collected in 2017. It was brought back to the hatchery to be reared. 

Juvenile Release

Each year soon after the ice is off the river, the bulk of the previous year's cohort of juvenile sturgeon are released into the Nechako River at various locations. The release area spans roughly 10 km of river. A portion of the juveniles are reserved for the Juvenile Release Event with students from the Nechako watershed. 

The usual size at release of the young sturgeon is roughly 45cm in length and 60g. To see some of these sturgeon, and those that have subsequently been recaptured, go to the Where is My Fish page and search the database.

Conservation Centre TOURS

HATCHERY SUMMER TOUR Schedule (starting May 5, 2018): 
Monday - Friday: 2:00 pm
Saturday & Sunday: 10:00 am and 2:00 pm
Meet the tour guides by the benches at the main entrance of the Conservation Centre.

The inside of the Conservation Centre may be closed to the public for biosecurity purposes in June and into July. If so, tours will take place outside the hatchery and along the Nechako River. 

Due to the limited parking space at the Conservation Centre, please park at Riverside Park or the boat launch area and walk back to the Conservation Centre.

School/Group Tours - If you would like to book a tour for your classroom or larger group, please call the NWSCC at 250-567-6673 and they will do their best to accommodate.  

Funding for these tour guide/intern positions has been generously provided by Rio Tinto through their Donations and Sponsorships Program, which contributes to community-building initiatives in their host communities. Funding is dedicated for a program to increase opportunities for those interested in career paths in the fields of fisheries, fish culture or teaching for people in the communities of the Nechako Watershed. This is year two of this funding.

 

 

 

 

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