ABBOTSFORD NEWS ARTICLE:
Posted for those who don't get this paper ......... do you agree or not????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.”