White Sturgeon Conservation Fish Culture Program

NEEF Funding: $4,000,000.00 ($400,000.00 per year for 10 years)

Total Project Budget: $8,551,857.00

Start Date: March 2013

End Date: March 2022


A comprehensive 5-year study on the Fraser River populations of white sturgeon, including the Nechako River, concluded the Nechako River population of white sturgeon is a genetically distinct population, isolated from Fraser main-stem populations and has experienced a decline in juvenile recruitment that started in the early 1960's and has resulted no measurable juvenile recruitment since the late 1960's. Recent research has affirmed this assertion and the current estimated total population size is
approximately 600 fish.  There is a high probability of extinction within a few decades without immediate intervention to prevent further declines.

In January 2001, the provincial Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative was established to address the critical state of the population.  The purpose of the recovery initiative is to stabilize the remaining population by preventing further declines, and ultimately to rebuild a self-sustaining population.

Even if the recruitment problem is immediately rectified, the mature population would continue to lose numbers of mature fish for the next 25 years to natural mortality given the lag time between juvenile recruitment and maturation for this population. Without immediate intervention, genetic diversity will also continue to be eroded. The specific reason(s) for recruitment failure are not precisely known, and while analysis of this problem is progressing substantially, recruitment restoration cannot be guaranteed in the near future. As such, a conservation fish culture is paramount to preventing extinction of this population, until wild recruitment can be re-established.

A conservation fish culture program can act immediately serving as an interim measure to preserve the genetic diversity in the remaining population, halt the continued loss of juvenile recruitment and initiate the rebuilding of age structure in the population.  In addition, cultured sturgeon can facilitate a number of research initiatives that will reduce the uncertainty associated with many components of the recovery program including the reason(s) for recruitment failure.

The sturgeon conservation centre has been built in Vanderhoof and will be operational by May 2014. The capital funding was provided by Province of BC, Rio Tinto Alcan, District of Vanderhoof and other partners. It will be operated by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC under the auspices of the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative.

$4 million dollars will be provided by Rio Tinto Alcan through Nechako Environmental Enhancement Fund over the next ten years to operate the facility. An additional $50,000 per year for operations has been provided from Rio Tinto Alcan directly. The conservation centre will be able to produce up to 12,000 juvenile sturgeon per year from up to twelve adult pairs, helping to secure the genetic diversity of this imperilled population for future generations.

Proponent: Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative in Partnership with Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC