Juvenile white sturgeon raised at Kootenay River Trout
Hatchery. Illustration by Loucas Raptis.
What is Conservation Fish Culture?
At present, there is significant uncertainty as to how to
re-establish successful recruitment in the wild fish populations.
A significant period of experimentation and monitoring
is required to determine successful recovery methodologies.
To prevent the extinction of these populations while
a solution to the recruitment problem is ascertained, a
highly specialized fish culture program can be employed.
Often called Conservation Fish Culture, these programs primarily
focus on protecting the natural genetic integrity of
the population. Such a program requires a very careful
breeding plan and release strategy to mimic what would happen
in the wild. These programs are planned to be 'temporary',
usually lasting one generation (about 30 years for white
sturgeon). A conservation fish culture program differs
significantly from the traditional production hatchery
program where one of the main objectives is to maximize
the number of fish released, primarily to provide fishing
Spawning and rearing sturgeon in captivity is significantly
more complex than for trout or salmon. As an example, sex
and state of maturity can only be determined through an
internal examination requiring minor surgery. Individual
females may have to undergo several such surgeries before spawning.
Even when 'mature', eggs must be monitored for development
under a microscope to determine when successful fertilization
may be possible. Final 'ovulation' must be induced through
the use of hormones and the eggs are collected using a surgical
procedure which is the fish equivalent of a cesarean section.
Throughout culture, families of sturgeon are maintained
Role of the Province in Conservation Culture Programs
Until recently, the primary role of the provincial Fish Culture
Section has been the hatchery production of various salmon
species to create and maintain recreational fisheries.
Currently about 1,100 small lakes are stocked each year
by our provincial
trout hatcheries. However, in recent years the fish culture
organization has been called upon to support species recovery
plans through provision of conservation fish culture projects.
Projects include - the
River Sturgeon Conservation Hatchery, the Columbia
Sturgeon Conservation Hatchery, and the Vancouver Island
Steelhead Living Gene Bank. The Nechako River White Sturgeon
Recovery initiative is presently considering a conservation
fish culture component to aid in recovery efforts. For more info...
It is extremely important to ensure consistency in techniques
and goals for conservation fish culture projects, and to manage
them adaptively as new information becomes available. Given
the inherent difficulties and risks, the Provincial Fisheries
Program is committed to only using highly trained provincial
staff to deliver such important projects- as and when the need
is identified in a recovery planning process.
Young sturgeon raised at the Kootenay River Trout Hatchery: