faqs

Here are some of the more common questions asked of us, grouped under topics. You may click on each tab topic to see the question(s) under that topic. 

general
  • Sport fishing harvest of white sturgeon in the Canadian section of the upper Columbia River was banned in 1994. First Nations people also voluntarily stopped their sustenance harvests on this population of white sturgeon. Recommendations by U.S. Tribal and Washington State fish managers, in support of the Initiative, closed the US fishery for this species in the upper Columbia in the spring of 2002.

  • The Species at Risk Act came into effect in Canada in June 2003. (S.A.R.A.) The Species at Risk Act was created to ensure the survival of wildlife species and the protection of our natural heritage. It requires Canada to provide for the recovery of species at risk due to human activity, and to manage species of special concern to make sure they don’t become endangered or threatened. It provides for the protection of the species, their residences and critical habitat. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assesses the results of public feedback and information gathered during public consultations and determines whether a species or population may be listed under S.A.R.A. A listing by S.AR.A. gives long term certainty and a legal requirement for protection of white sturgeon for the future.

  • The administrative responsibility for the management of the white sturgeon and all freshwater species belongs with the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. Fisheries and Oceans Canada ensures recovery planning is consistent with federal acts, policies and regulations, including federal policy for the management of fish habitat. The Canadian Columbia River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commission and Okanagan Nation Alliance Fisheries Department is assisting the Ktunaxa and Shuswap Nation governments in their consideration of necessary recovery measures. Canadian and U.S. power producers recognize the sturgeon recruitment issue in the upper Columbia and acknowledge that hydroelectric development has likely contributed toward the decline of white sturgeon populations and productivity. Industrial stakeholders have acknowledged pollution issues and regional governments have recognized the species benefit to communities. In the U.S., the funding and support comes from the Bonneville Power Administration Fish and Wildlife Program with recommendations for funding provided by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Fish and Wildlife Program. Coordination of U.S. recovery activities for upper Columbia white sturgeon occurs through the Lake Roosevelt Sturgeon Recovery Project. The project is a cooperative effort amongst the Spokane Tribe of Indians, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Colville Confederated Tribes. The Spokane Tribe of Indians coordinates these efforts.

  • The white sturgeon of the upper Columbia River are valued because they are integral to First Nations and US tribal culture, once supported a historic recreational fishery, and are an important part of BC’s natural heritage. They are also intrinsically valuable as a unique species and for their role in the biodiversity of the Columbia River basin. In the lower Columbia River (below Bonneville Dam), where white sturgeon continue to thrive and harvest fisheries still occur, they are noted for the high quality of their meat as well their eggs or caviar. Today, fishing for white sturgeon is closed in the upper Columbia River watershed in Washington and British Columbia because of their declining numbers.

  • Biologists are conducting extensive research and monitoring of white sturgeon throughout the upper Columbia River basin. Results of the research will provide critical information about what these fish require for their survival. Fertilization programs are also underway to restore depleted nutrients and enhance primary productivity within reservoirs. Since 2001, UCWSRI partners have undertaken a conservation fish culture program at two Canadian hatcheries, the initial pilot work from the Hill Creek Hatchery near Nakusp until February 2002, and subsequently the Kootenay Sturgeon Conservation Hatchery, located at the Kootenay Trout Hatchery site near Cranbrook. The current facility cultures both upper Columbia and Kootenay River white sturgeon. During February 2004, U.S. Initiative partners assisted in part of the rearing and release program of 2003 brood juveniles at their pilot facility, Columbia Basin Hatchery, Moses Lake, Washington state. Currently both are rearing and released upper Columbia white sturgeon juveniles. In Canada, during fall 2004 and spring 2005 members and community interests participated in a federal government public consultation process to provide input to federal biologists regarding listing the white sturgeon species as Endangered, and subsequently protected under the Species at Risk Act. Such a change would have significant long term recovery benefits for the upper Columbia white sturgeon. The listing would include all British Columbia resident white sturgeon populations in the Kootenay, Nechako and Fraser rivers as well as the upper Columbia River. A decision was made official during summer 2006, with these populations, for lower and middle Fraser sturgeon populations being formally listed as Endangered.

  • The reasons upper Columbia white sturgeon are endangered are not fully understood however in the last 125 years, human development, loss of habitat, pollution, construction of hydroelectric dams and changes in flow patterns, the introduction of exotic species and harvesting in the upper Columbia River has led to the sturgeon’s decline. Collectively, these factors have endangered the white sturgeon by reducing their reproductive success, restricting their distribution and degrading their habitat.

  • White sturgeon are distributed throughout the Columbia River between Hugh Keenleyside Dam and Grand Coulee Dam and a small number of adults reside in the Arrow Lakes Reservoir up to Revelstoke Dam. In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests sturgeon were present in both Revelstoke and Kinbasket Reservoirs. The upper Columbia River populations are genetically distinct from those found in the Kootenay system.

get involved
  • The white sturgeon is a unique, native fish species that is being threatened with extinction. In the 1990’s, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designated it “vulnerable,” and the sturgeon was assigned to BC’s Red List in 1993 after the Conservation Data Centre (CDC) described it as “imperiled.” Subsequently in December 1994, the upper Columbia white sturgeon were listed as “critically imperiled”. In November 2003, COSEWIC assessed the white sturgeon as “endangered,” indicating that this species is facing imminent extirpation or extinction. In summer 2006, the Canadian federal government officially listed this population as Endangered under the Species At Risk Act (SARA). Recent population estimates puts the upper Columbia River white sturgeon at approximately 1,000 wild fish in the Canadian portion of the basin and 1,500 to 2,000 fish from the Canada-U.S. border to Grand Coulee Dam in the U.S. Almost all the fish are greater than 30 years old, suggesting a population of aging fish with relatively few young to replace the old.

  • To help protect the white sturgeon, here are some things you can do:

    1.  Avoid dumping garbage or spilling fuels and other pollutants in streams and lakes.
    2. Report any sightings of illegal white sturgeon capture to the Ministry of Environment’s Observe Record Report hotline at 1-800-663-WILD (9453).
    3. Contact your local RCMP detachment, Conservation Officer, or fisheries staff.
    4. If you discover a dead sturgeon, report it immediately to the above numbers.

    Support research efforts by reporting recent or historical information to increase the valuable knowledge base about sturgeon by sending us an email to info@uppercolumbiasturgeon.org, Organizations and the public are invited to make financial contributions towards several research studies planned each year, as well as towards communications and stewardship activities aimed at educating communities about the status of this endangered species. The Community Working Group formalized an agreement with the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund to accept donations to the UCWSRI. Contact an Initiative representative by E-mail at info@uppercolumbiasturgeon.org for further information.

sturgeon
  • The white sturgeon is North America’s largest freshwater fish. They can grow to a length of 6 meters (19 feet) and a weight of 800 kg (1800 lbs.) during a lifetime that may span over 100 years. On average, they grow about 4 cm per year, slowing once they have reached 25 years of age. Growth is highly variable—a 150-cm (5 feet) sturgeon can range from 25 to 50 years old. Fossil records indicate that its shark-like appearance - torpedo-shaped body, large dorsal fin and a broad, flat head - has changed little over millions of years. It gets its name from the white along the sides and belly. Perhaps the most distinctive features of the sturgeon are its five rows of bony plates or scutes along its body, which give it a prehistoric armored appearance. The white sturgeon is omnivorous, eating live and dead fish, invertebrates, plants, and other organic material.

  • The Initiative has undertaken fish culture work involving adult brood capture, in-hatchery breeding and juvenile rearing of white sturgeon since 2001. The Initiative operated a pilot fish culture conservation program at Hill Creek Hatchery, near Nakusp, B.C. During the winter of 2002, the larger Kootenay Sturgeon Conservation Hatchery near Cranbrook underwent modifications during to operate as a conservation hatchery for upper Columbia white sturgeon. The Kootenay Sturgeon Conservation Hatchery cultures and rears both Kootenay River white sturgeon and upper Columbia River white sturgeon however in separate locations at the same facility. Juvenile fish reared at this conservation hatchery will be used to prevent the population from disappearing in the short term and will provide young fish for research to understand the poor success of reproduction in the wild. The present fish culture work, although highly important, is not currently accepted as a long-term solution to the sturgeon’s decline. Each spring since 2002, between 10,000 and 13,000 juveniles are released to the Columbia River . Each fish that is released is uniquely tagged with a small Passive Integrated Transponder ("PIT") tag. This tag will provide us with information on each fish’s background when it is recovered while sampling or through incidental capture. During the spring months ripe adult females and males are captured during a May-June adult broodstock program on the upper Columbia River, transported to the hatchery and crossed to produce as many as six families and about 12,000 juvenile white sturgeon. Experimental programs are also being examined to determine if naturally spawned white sturgeon eggs can be collected from spawning areas and reared in the hatchery until the young fish reach a size where they can be successfully released into the wild. Beginning in February 2004, a Columbia Basin pilot hatchery at Moses Lake, Washington started rearing 2003 brood juveniles for release in recommended U.S. release sites. The U.S.-based fish conservation hatchery program continues to develop and refine fish culture techniques, with the goal over coming years to implement a larger use conservation facility with space to permit adult holding, incubation as well as juvenile rearing facilities.

  • It has been 10 years since the Upper Columbia White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative (UCWSRI) started, and we have completed nine years of research, education outreach programs and conservation aquaculture operations; 2011 marked the tenth year of releasing juveniles into the Columbia River. With respect to this conservation aquaculture component, there are signs of success although it is early years (especially since sturgeon may not reach reproductive maturity for 15-25 years). Since 2000, more than 100,000 juveniles have been released. In the first six months after release approx 20-30% survive. The survival rate then increases to 85% and 90% in years two and three respectively. But the aquaculture component is just one part of our work – we still need to fully understand the limiting factors in their survival and work towards restoring habitat. Only once natural reproduction is again successful will the recovery initiative have met its goal. The fact that cultured fish are surviving well points to a very early life stage bottleneck, likely shortly after the eggs hatch.

  • In 1994, First Nations voluntarily stopped their traditional sturgeon fishery in response to the addition of this species to the Province’s Red List. Since the formation of the 2-year agreement in 2000, First Nations members have been invited to participate and serve on the CWG and TWG committees for the Upper Columbia White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative. Both Canadian First Nations and American Tribes are also involved in the recovery research tasks.

  • The Technical Working Group is responsible for the development and implementation of the Recovery Plan. The team is made up of biologists, researchers, and other sturgeon experts from provincial, federal and state governments, BC Hydro, Teck Cominco Metals, Bonneville Power Administration, First Nations and American Tribes and others. Recovery is a shared Canada-U.S. goal, so the team includes members from Washington and Oregon states as well as from British Columbia, Canada. The overall role of the Technical Working Group (TWG) since the Initiative’s inception has been to develop and oversee implementation of the Recovery Plan. The Plan was completed in November 2002 and provides technical guidance, produced through discussion and consensus. Public input into the plan was achieved from the Action Planning Group. The TWG is currently implementing a variety of research projects recommended in the Recovery Plan, which have been designed to provide further information about upper Columbia white sturgeon. A complete list of the ongoing projects and single year projects is available for information is available from Initiative Annual Reports and Study Plans, which are posted in the Reports section of this web site.

  • The Community Working Group (CWG) is responsible for developing a common vision, garnering public support for sturgeon recovery, providing information and feedback on recovery operations, informing the public, and seeking funding for recovery projects. Members of this group represents a range of interests including federal, provincial and local governments, First Nations and American Tribes, industry and environmental groups, U.S. regulatory agencies and the public.

  • During 2000, a 2-year agreement signed between the provincial and federal governments and BC Hydro, formalizing a common commitment to address the endangered status of upper Columbia River white sturgeon. The agreement defines some strategies for white sturgeon recovery, an allocation of start-up funding to initiate a recovery program, and the involvement of First Nations and the public. It was the first step toward stabilization and stock recovery of white sturgeon in the upper Columbia River. In November 2002, the UCWSRI completed a Recovery Plan that identifies goals and recovery measures for rebuilding the white sturgeon population. Since then, the Initiative has been successful in continuing efforts in seeking financial, technical and community partner support to undertaking a variety of environmental initiatives related to white sturgeon recovery in the upper Columbia River.

  • The Initiative is composed of two core teams: a Technical Working Group and a Community Working Group. Technical sub-committees are struck as and when required for Recovery planning initiatives and a Communications Sub-Committee, which provides outreach and education support is also associated with these groups. These teams bring skill, expertise and community perspective to the white sturgeon recovery process.

  • Recent estimates put the upper Columbia River white sturgeon population at approximately 1,000 wild fish in the Canadian portion of the Basin and 2,300 fish from the Canada-U.S. border to the Grand Coulee Dam in the U.S. Almost all the (wild) fish are more than 35 years old, suggesting a lack of reproductive success, with relatively few young fish surviving to replace the old. There are approximately 50 adults remaining in Arrow Lakes Reservoir.

ucwsri
  • The UCWSRI is a transboundary collaboration of over 25 partners in government, First Nations and American tribes, industry, environmental groups and others who are working together to build a healthy future for the white sturgeon in the upper Columbia River in British Columbia and Washington. The collective body is working to restore a naturally sustaining population of upper Columbia white sturgeon. This will bring both ecological and social benefits to the Columbia River basin.