Many anglers are impressed by the size of the fish they pull out of the waters near Castlegar. Take Denis Woodcox for example, who caught the largest Kokanee salmon in the world in Arrow Lakes. But there are even larger monsters lurking in the deep of the Columbia River that make Denis’s 12-pound catch seem like a minnow.
Columbia white sturgeon can grow to be over ten feet long and weigh upwards of 400 pounds but the good news is they’re completely docile when it comes to humans. So when you’re swimming in the river next time, fear not as sturgeon prefer to dine on fish carcasses, crustaceans, and mollusks. To be able to see one of these creatures, however, is a wonderful experience and one that’s increasingly rare as they’re on the endangered species list so fishing for them is outlawed. The local Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program is combating the species’ decline by collects eggs and larvae and rearing the hatchlings before returning them to he river. In past years, the FWCP held Critter Day during which families could watch the release of juvenile sturgeon into the river. This year, the Okanagan Native Association is organizing a ceremonial release of the juvenile sturgeon on May 3. It’s a great opportunity for families to witness a living dinosaur.
Like every one of the 26 species of sturgeon worldwide, the Columbia population has been in existence since the Paleozoic Era but these ones are unique because they’ve been isolated from the ocean. In fact, the white sturgeon’s scientific name is Acipenser transmontanus, which means the “sturgeon over the mountains.”
Due to overfishing practices in the past century, the local species was threatened but thanks to the efforts of a number of organizations, both in Canada and the U.S., the population seems to be bouncing back. There is a complex fertilization program in place now that involves collecting eggs, taking them to hatcheries, rearing the young until they’re nine months old and then releasing them back into the river. In May of 2015 over 1,000 juveniles were released and there was a dedicated public event so people could help with the endeavour. Last year at the same time, there were 75 juveniles on display during “Critter Day” at Beaver Creek Park so families could come and go at their leisure and experience these incredible fish.
According to the FWCP, juvenile white sturgeon released as part of the conservation efforts have survived and grown better than originally predicted. It is estimated that there are more than 30,000 of these hatchery fish in the Columbia River from Hugh Keenleyside Dam in Castlegar, down through to Lake Roosevelt in the United States.
So while you’re not allowed angling for them, you might just get lucky and spy one of these ancient creatures the next time you’re taking a dip in the Columbia. Or, you can keep your toes dry and visit Castlegar, Millennium Park on May 3 at 10am and join the Okanagan Native Alliance for the ceremonial release of juvenile dinosaurs.