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Jul 18 2006

The white ghosts are disappearing.

The population of white sturgeon in the lower Fraser River dropped dramatically by more than 21 per cent in the past two years.

Why is it happening?

Troy Nelson, executive director of the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, said there may be several possible reasons.

The society is concerned about changes in the river habitat, a possible shortage of food for this ancient fish species, illegal poaching and sturgeon being accidentally caught in salmon gill nets.

“The recent decline in the population is troubling,” Nelson said.

The society started monitoring and tagging the endangered sturgeon in 1999.

The upcoming salmon fishery may strike another blow against the sturgeon, warns the society.

Thousands of juvenile sturgeon are likely going to be caught in gill nets this summer, resulting in death and injury to the already endangered stock of sturgeon, Nelson said.

“The current (2005) estimate of the number of white sturgeon from 40-260 cm in length that reside in the lower Fraser River is approximately 49,000,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the population started to decrease in 2004, and continued decreasing sharply through 2005. We have lost over 13,000 fish in the past two years.”

Nelson also notes the fish are not growing the way they should.

He said he is concerned about the reduced growth rates for all size groups of sturgeon over the past two years.

The most significant drop in the population in the past two years is for juveniles from 60 cm to 80 cm in length.

This size range of sturgeon is the most common size to be captured in gill nets set in the Fraser River to catch migrating salmon.

Studies conducted in the lower Fraser River during the summer of 2005 documented high death and injury rates for juvenile white sturgeon (below a meter in length) intercepted in gill nets.

Nelson said the society is concerned about what will happen this summer.

“There may be an increase in gill netting allowed this summer based on a healthy sockeye forecast, and this means high numbers of sturgeon will be intercepted in those nets.”

He also identified poaching, intentional illegal harvesting, of white sturgeon as a key threat to the lower Fraser River population.

Federal fisheries authorities suspect that hundreds, possibly thousands of fish are killed each year for their meat and, their eggs, which can be processed and sold as caviar.

Rick Hansen, chairman of the sturgeon society is also concerned.

“White sturgeon are an ancient species that has outlived the dinosaur and survived ice ages,” said FRSCS chairman Rick Hansen.

But, will they survive human devastation?

“It’s our responsibility to conserve and protect their habitat, reduce mortality and injury levels from human interceptions, and get tough on illegal fishing,” Hansen said.

This species is culturally significant to First Nations and support a multi-million-dollar recreational fishery, Hansen said.

The FRSCS is working to mitigate the dangers of gill net fishing to sturgeon.

The society is helping to educate First Nations fishermen and fishing communities to reduce sturgeon interception rates and improve the chances of captured sturgeon to survive when released.

“It’s tough on the fishermen as well as the sturgeon,” Nelson said.

“Net fishermen do not want to catch sturgeon, but they do, and if an overnight set gill net tangles a few sturgeon, chances are that 30-40 per cent of those fish will die.”

The total number of dead and injured sturgeon can add up quickly, he said.

Over the long term, protection of aquatic habitats in the lower Fraser River is the most important factor for stock-level security and population recovery, Nelson said.

“Sturgeon are an apex species at the top of a complex food web.”

The only way to have a healthy ecosystem is to have healthy and diverse habitats,” Nelson said.

“In addition to food and feeding habitat, white sturgeon require specific spawning, juvenile rearing, and over wintering habitats, all of which must be provided in the middle of an area (the Fraser Valley) where the human population and urban growth is expanding at an unprecedented rate.”
Posted for those who don't get this paper ......... do you agree or not????


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I have mixed feelings about this. I know for a fact that the nets kill a number of fish each year. What good is the society going to do in talking to the netters. The ones that abide by the rules already understand the importance of protecting the species. As far as the stocks being down over the last two years, it's definately possible looking at all the added pressure from the charter services and sporty's out there that has to create some stress on the fish. I dont know though I've been fishing for them for years and I personally dont notice it any slower than years past. As far as poachers they've always been there doing their thing so thats nothing new. I can honestly say that in my life time I will not be suprised to first see the the salmon stocks destroyed then the sturgeon, because they will be the only fish left in there. The sad thing is like I think Abby said in a different topic " it's a combined result of all pressures on the river" (commercial,native and sport). I would hope our gov't would get control over the allocations and preservation of all our stocks before we are looking at the mighty fraser, "the dead sea" of the west coast. Good luck though right
Crazy D

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I would venture a guess that unattended set nets(the kind you see anchored at the edges of the Fraser all summer) are the biggest culprit.
They are only check periodically in most cases and anything caught in them will most likely be dead..Great news for the by-catch like sturgeon ,steelhead,wild coho,etc,etc,....
Mandatory frequent checking of nets the same as commercial salt water netting must be instituted where the nets are pulled frequently to reduce the mortality of non-target fish...But that word non-target means little to the people that leave their nets in overnight or all day..They keep whatever gets in their nets or throw it back in the river....
Not what you would call conserving nature would you...????
Frustration is the closest word to describe the feeling most experience,but even that doesn't fully describe the feeling.... :cry:

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There are a few "truths" in this article, but what I precieve by the publication is a bit of political strategy to keep the public aware of the danger of ANY nets in the Fraser River. Some very careful editing and a quote from Rick Hansen that he made several years ago does not lend a lot of credibility to the article. It is interesting to note that in last night's Van Sun "a judicial investigation of racially based commercial fisheries will determine if poaching is a problem".......Geez, more money spent to find out what everyone already knows......

The Fraser has always had poachers, as do many other streams and forrests
The guides in the Fraser Valley certainly know how many fish are around and whether the population is decling.
The estimated reduction in the number of Surgeon since 2004 seems a little errant to me.

Where is this data to support the claim?

Sometimes a nice little article, with no supporting documenrts and a few timely quotes can go a long way........... Ortho

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there was a intresting editorial in the local gazette on tues which kind of ruffled my feathers a bit,
No Room For Politics With Fish
Re local sturgeon not up for sara protection
Fred Helmer suggests we should look at "our sucess stories" and not dwell on the quagmire. I thought that was the point of the process. Ignoreing the question of which success stories, at least 24 issues concerning sturgeon should be individually addressed before a relevant decision can responsibly be made.
With the sturgeon assessed as endangered by COSEWIC in 2003 I find it rather impudent to only consult those in the industry and to imply First Nations compliance. Perhaps every band on the Fraser and her tributaries should vote for or against sturgeon sport fishing and submit this as their consultation.
To suggestthat the First Nation fishery is the single biggest to sturgeon is frightfully ignorant. Exactly how can the tagging program be successful? The only past numbers available would be the highly inaccurate figures from the time of their slaughter. To use tagging for future projections is impossible, especially when all the destructivefactors are not even tabled. The tagging progream would have to it's harm for a long long time to collect any relevant data and if status quo continues, that might only be the numbers of the decline. To selectively choose facts can not change the truth.
Upper ,Lower, or Middle River risk means nothing to a sturgeon and this is the methodology working for the sturgeon that the generously sport(hardly) fishers can then apply for other species?. Of course Mr. Helmer is only speaking of the only remaining species they can make money from, not any of the species already lost.
Politics has no place in real conservation. Sport fishers have no right to speak on behalf of the sturgeon.
I. Hock "

I would think the guiding industry is trying to do all it can to protect the sturgeon stocks. The tagging program is collecting data on a species that up until probably the 90's was only in the news when one washed up on the shore. As far as first nations sure there is a spiritual connection to these fish, but it is not a fish required for survival. I agree with ortho the media can definately word things to benifit certian groups more. I totally have to agree with AFG there should be no set nets on the river if you need fish you should be minding the nets,not like you have to go pick berries for dinner. It sounds racist but in this day and age there is no reason why they should'nt be on the nets when they are in the water,heck make it seem like work and we know what will happen. Sorry guy's about the rant ,but when a group that i see is taking the first step in trying to correct the problem and they get bagged on for it, whilest the F/N and Environmentalists stand in the sun well that just p*&&%& me off :evil:
Crazy D

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Well, of course it is in the guides interest to protect, conserve, and make sure there are enough fish in the river to keep a multi million $$$ industry alive....This is one of the points that often gets overlooked. Where do all the people stay before and after their trips? where do they eat? where do they buy their gas and groceries?
A complete closure of the fisheries in the Fraser would be out of the question because of all the spin-offs to the local economy.
SARA is a very powerful group, but don't think for a momment they are not politically driven.
They are masters at taking web available data and letters and twisting the facts slightly in their favour. To list the Fraser Sturgeon as a species at risk might have been a good choice ten years ago, but it is clear to most people who actually KNOW anything about Fraser River sturgeon..they are a very durable species and have made a nice recovery during this period.

However, they do grow rather slowly and we must always keep that in mind.
Consider the fact that if the sturgeon fishing was closed in the Fraser......and the public were informed of the Grave circumstances surrounding the survival of this species and it WAS registered as a "species at risk". Then.the public would be a lot less sympathetic to the sturgeon "by-catch" by all the netting process' no matter who is netting.
Big problem.......no eaasy solution/...................Ortho 8)
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