A growing area of research is currently underway to better understand the distribution, movement, survival and behaviours of juvenile sturgeon in the Nechako River. The number of naturally spawned 'wild' juvenile sturgeon in the river is very very low (the missing generation) and has lead to sturgeon being designated as endangered in the Nechako River. The hatchery program that began as a pilot program in 2007-2009 and now a regular program since 2014, has produced thousands of juvenile sturgeon that have since been released into the Nechako River. These hatchery-raised sturgeon will help researchers understand what the limiting factors are for this age-group of sturgeon in the watershed and further lead to recovery programs that will help this generation survive to spawn naturally in the Nechako River and recover a self-sustaining population.
The NWSRI partner with Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC to conduct monitoring and indexing of juvenile sturgeon in the Nechako River. Much of the research that is conducted samples the hatchery released juveniles in the river, however 'wild' spawned juveniles are also encountered.
The juvenile indexing program started in 2004 using gill nets to catch, measure and release young sturgeon in the river. This program was altered and standardized in 2009 to use the set-line method in place of gill nets to reduce by-catch and increase catch rates. The standardized method allows for more robust analysis of the distribution, health and survival of primarily hatchery raised juveniles in the river.
Read the 2016 Juvenile Indexing Report for all the details.
It became clear between 2016 and 2017 that additional monitoring of juveniles was needed to help assess movement and survival rates for the long-term. In the summer of 2017, the core Indexing Program was carried out, however additional effort was put into indexing juvenile sturgeon that are one-10 years of age. Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, along with Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC worked side-by-side to gather as much information as possible to help determine where hatchery released sturgeon are going after release, how much they are growing, as well as if there are wild spawned sturgeon the same again in the system.
Looking forward, a broader reaching monitoring program is being planned for the 2018-2019 sampling year.