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

A cup of tea can be a great hand-warmer on a cold day. (submitted)
Tea: it picks you up, it does not let you down

A good cup of tea never fails to brighten up the day

A map created by Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping, which assesses the sensitivity of Canada’s Pacific Coast to oil spills. This map highlights the Douglas Channel and other inlets and waterways around Kitimat and out to the coast. (Clear Seas map)
Douglas Channel scores ‘medium’ to high’ on oil spill sensitivity study

The study was done by a not-for-profit group specializing in sustainable marine shipping

Jody Craven of Kitimat has been announced as the BC Libertarian Party’s candidate for North Coast riding MLA on Oct. 5. (Jody Craven photo)
Jody Craven of Kitimat in the running for North Coast MLA

BC Libertarian Party has announced Craven as North Coast candidate for riding

Martin Holzbauer, independent, Nicole Halbauer, BC NDP, and Ellis Ross, BC Liberal Party, are the candidates for the Skeena riding in the upcoming provincial election. (Terrace Standard/BC NDP)
Skeena candidates talk northwest education

Online learning access and early childhood education were common themes

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read