Efforts to save the endangered Nechako white sturgeon in B.C. reached an important milestone today with the announcement of close to $10 million to build and operate a new sturgeon conservation centre on the Nechako River in Vanderhoof.
The conservation centre, a collaboration between the Province, Rio Tinto Alcan, the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and the District of Vanderhoof, will cost about $5.5 million to build and around $4.5 million to operate over the next 10 years. The facility will be owned and operated by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC.
Representatives from all four organizations gathered at Riverside Park in Vanderhoof for today's announcement, a short distance from the site of the new hatchery.
Located across the river from the only known spawning site for Nechako white sturgeon, the facility will release up to 12,000 juvenile sturgeon into the river each year to rebuild the population and research ways of restoring the ability of sturgeon to spawn successfully in their natural habitat. The juveniles will be tagged prior to release to the river so their behaviour and survival can be closely monitored.
The conservation centre is the culmination of more than a decade of planning and hard-work, led by the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative, a community-based group representing a broad spectrum of interests , including the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and Saik'uz First Nation, in whose traditional territory the facility will be built.
The Province has contributed about $3.5 million toward the $5.5-million cost of construction, with Rio Tinto kicking in another $1.5 million and the remainder coming from other sources including the District of Vanderhoof ($310,000) and the Department of Fisheries and Ocean ($160,000) and the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC. The District of Vanderhoof is also donating a parcel of municipally owned land to the project.
Rio Tinto Alcan will cover an estimated $450,000 in annual operating costs over the next 10 years, $400,000 of which will come from the Nechako Environmental Enhancement Fund, established in 1997 to address the downstream impacts of Kenney Dam on the Nechako.
The Nechako is one of four B.C. rivers that are currently closed to commercial and recreational sturgeon fishing due to conservation concerns. In the 1960s, the Nechako River was home to an estimated 5,000 white sturgeon. Today less than 300 of these prehistoric creatures remain.
The Nechako white sturgeon was declared an endangered species in 2003 and listed under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2006.
Over the past 45 years, spawning rates for adult sturgeon have dropped far below levels needed to sustain the river's sturgeon population. Sturgeon produced at similar facilities on the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers are showing excellent survival rates and similar results are expected on the Nechako.
Construction of the new facility will begin this spring and it's anticipated the hatchery will be in full operation by spring 2014.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad -
"This long-awaited facility represents a shining beacon of hope for the troubled Nechako River sturgeon population, which has been in decline for decades due to serious reproductive challenges."
Don Peterson, president, Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. -
"We're delighted that we are finally in a position to build and operate the Nechako sturgeon conservation centre. The conservation fish culture program will allow younger year classes of sturgeon to be established while researchers seek long-term solutions that will allow these wonderful creatures to survive on their own."
Paul Henning, vice president strategic projects Western Canada, Rio Tinto Alcan -
"This facility is the culmination of many years of work by various community groups. We are pleased to be part of that and even more pleased that the Sturgeon Hatchery will become a reality. We look forward to the continuation of the great relationships developed over the years, in particular with the Freshwaters Fisheries Society, the operators of the facility, and the District of Vanderhoof."
Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen -
"The Nechako white sturgeon has inhabited the Nechako River since the days of the dinosaurs and now they are on the endangered species list. This facility is necessary for the rehabilitation of not only this species but the river itself. This facility will educate future generations on the importance of the Nechako River and help us understand the effect we have on the environment and the river's habitat."
About the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative: http://www.nechakowhitesturgeon.org/recovery/team
About the federal Species at Risk Act:www.sararegistry.gc.ca
About white sturgeon recovery strategies: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/fish/regulations/docs/1011/fa_WhiteSturgeonRecovery.pdf
Brennan Clarke, Media Relations
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations