Fish & Habitats– Conservation Fish Culture for White Sturgeon


Juvenile white sturgeon raised at Kootenay River Trout Hatchery. Illustration by Loucas Raptis.
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 opportunities.

Sturgeon Culture

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 separately.

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 Kootenay River Sturgeon Conservation Hatchery, the Columbia River 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:

Young sturgeon raised at the Kootenay River Trout Hatchery:  Young sturgeon raised at the Kootenay River Trout Hatchery: