Conservation of the White Sturgeon
A century ago, the fish were bigger and much more plentiful – just take a look at the black & white photos on the wall of many fishing stores. Thousand pound tuna, 100 pound salmon and other giant sportfish the length of two full grown men are proudly displayed as replicas next to the fishing rods.
As man has interfered, the circle of life has been disrupted. Not just for the fish, but for everything. Climate change, pollution, dams, overfishing and construction have all contributed to the rapid decline of many species of fresh & saltwater fish. We have seen species of monster fish go extinct – like the paddlefish in Southeast Asia.
The White Sturgeon in the Fraser River is no exception to significant changes in abundance and size. In the early 1900’s this fish was harvested nearly to extinction before the Government stepped in. At this time, sturgeon were measured up to 1500lbs and 14ft long. There were rumours of over 20 ft monster sturgeon in the lower Fraser River.
Trouble was that sturgeon take between 25 and 40 years before spawning for the first time. And they can live to be 100+ years old. So, it takes a very long time for the species to recover. Currently fishing for White Sturgeon in the lower Fraser River is allowed, but on a catch & release basis only.
In 1997, the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society (FRSCS) was founded to manage & help restore the White Sturgeon population in the Fraser River. The FRSCS includes all levels of government, commercial & recreational fisherman, First Nations and Biologists. The purpose of this group is to develop a plan to ensure the health of the sturgeon while maintaining access to each stakeholder group.
Over the past 20+ years, the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society has operated a tagging program, where over 70,000 fish have been tagged & released. The White Sturgeon has become the most tagged species of any in the world. Several reports have been issued by the FRSCS – you can read them at Fraser River Sturgeon Monitoring Reports.
So is conservation working? I personally believe that without the restrictions in the early 1900’s and then converting to a catch & release industry, we’d have no more White Sturgeon in the Fraser River. However, we’ve all taken measures to preserve this magnificent creature and it appears to be working. Studies will continue, conservation protocols will continue to evolve, and we look forward to seeing more and larger White Sturgeon for decades to come.