Healthy juvenile white sturgeon at the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative’s hatchery in Vanderhoof. The young sturgeon are being preyed upon by otters in the Nechako watershed. Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative photo

Northern B.C. city dealing with its own otter problem

Vanderhoof’s Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative working to increase fish survival rate

With a greedy Vancouver-based otter making provincial headlines as it feasts on expensive fish and evades capture, Vanderhoof has its own otter issues.

Nechako White Sturgeon, a species listed under federal government’s Species At Risk Act (SARA) are being preyed upon by otter in the Nechako watershed.

Unlike in Vancouver, where there’s just one troublesome otter, the SARA-listed sturgeon face a number of the predators, says Wayne Salewski, the chair of the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative’s Community Working Group.

“I think we have families of otters who, like all good otters, like fish.”

The sturgeon travel the length and breadth of the Nechako watershed, swimming as far north as Takla Lake and as far west as Stuart Lake, but always returning to a stretch of water downtown Vanderhoof to spawn.

The Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative in the city runs a hatchery, catching female and male sturgeon, stripping the eggs gently and returning the adult fish to the river, and then hand-fertilizing the eggs to raise juvenile sturgeon. The young sturgeon are later released into the river at nine different sites, some with radio transmitters in them, to allow the Initiative to track the fish and their survival rate.

Salewski says they’ve discovered in the past few years that the juvenile fish are being preyed upon by otter in the river system.

“Over the years we started to recognize that those fish with radio transmitters seemed to get preyed on quite heavily by otters. We’d find that out by finding the radio transmitter up on the shore,” explains Salewski.

“Most interestingly, we find a lot of these transmitters in the latrines of otters. Otters are very social animals, very clean, and they like the same bathroom sites.”

Salewski says the otter don’t ingest the transmitters, but eat around them and spit them out. Volunteers with the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative are able to use their radios to find the discarded transmitters, which are reusable, says Salewski. “That’s one good thing about the whole situation.”

The group has now begun to put together a program to discover the impact the otters are making to the survival, and overall recovery, of the at-risk white sturgeon.

Salewski says it’s been a learning curve from the start.

“With every year of experience we are having to make changes in our practices to increase survivial. In the first few years, we would put a fish into the water at two to three inches in length. … We could quickly see things like seagulls swarming our release sites and having a heyday. So that caused us to say, ‘Well, we will raise them bigger and that should look after that.’”

But the larger fish, at 12 to 14 inches, were excellent fodder for osprey and eagles, says Salewski.

“No self-respecting eagle would go after a two-inch fish, but it would easily go after a 12- to 14-inch fish.”

Now, the volunteers at the hatchery have decided to release the fish after two years.

“That is our reaction. … If otters are chasing these [12-inch fish], perhaps if they were bigger and faster, maybe an otter wouldn’t challenge the idea of taking them on. That’s where we are – supersizing our fish and seeing if that gives us a better survival rate.”

Salewski says the current low water levels aren’t helping, as visibility is good for predators.

“It’s the circle of life. We are not naive, but there are many questions that are left behind. Are we in fact making otters healthier because they now have a constant supply of food? And will the healthy mommy produce more healthy babies and our problem will get larger because there are more of them? These are obvious questions and things that need to be answered,” says Salewski.

Find out more about the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative here.

READ MORE: Conservation and education collide at sturgeon spawning



newsroom@ominecaexpress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Signs at a new COVID-19 testing and collection centre at 14577 66th Ave. in Surrey. It was relocated from an urgent primary care centre near Surrey Memorial Hospital. This new centre allows for up to 800 tests per day, which is 550 more than the previous centre, according to Fraser Health. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
More than 200 new COVID-19 cases linked to Fraser Health region: Dr. Henry

Provincial health officer appeals to people to keep gatherings small

/ Kevin Mills Photo
BC NDP leader tours through downtown Mission

John Horgan talked to local business owners, accompanied by candidates Pam Alexis and Bob D’Eith

Mia Gill, with cousin Gavin Nahal, presents a cheque of just over $1,400 for the pediatrics unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Submitted photo)
Teen presents birthday cash to Abbotsford Regional Hospital for 8th year

Mia Gill has been donating to pediatrics unit every year since 2013

Jodie Fedun said her brother Jarrett Whitford hasn’t been heard from since early September, and his bank card was last used in Hope. (Submitted/Facebook photo)
Police spot missing Alberta man on video, in Hope

Family have not heard from Jarrett Whitford, 31, since early September

The Vancouver Canucks and Abbotsford’s Jake Virtanen have agreed to a two-year deal with an average annual salary of $2.55 million. (@Canucks Twitter photo)
Abbotsford’s Jake Virtanen, Vancouver Canucks agree to two-year deal

Two sides avoid arbitration, Virtanen will receive average annual salary of $2.55 million

Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien gives instructions during practice in Brossard, Que., Tuesday, July 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Julien energized by Canadiens’ busy off-season: ‘I expect us to make the playoffs’

Julien energized by Canadiens’ busy off-season: ‘I expect us to make the playoffs’

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

One of the squirrels who ended up having their tails amputated after getting them stuck together with tree sap. (Facebook/Wild ARC)
Squirrels recovering from tail amputation after sap situation near Victoria

BC SPCA Wild ARC says squirrels will be released back into wild, fifth sibling was euthanized

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read