The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources plan to cull 6,000 young white sturgeon at the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative (NWSRI) in Vanderhoof is currently on hold.
The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council , calling the plan “unnecessary destruction,” and protesters have been demonstrating outside of the hatchery.
Saik’uz Chief Jackie Thomas believes the Ministry was trying to keep the decision quiet but that the cull is unacceptable to her people.
“I was on those calls yesterday with the province and in the afternoon with the [Department of Fisheries and Oceans]. We do have another call today. We need a solution that doesn’t include culling and the deadline was 36 hours so that’s at 4 o’clock today.”
What happens next will depend on the Ministry’s answer to the Carrier Sekani’s proposed alternatives to the cull, which include shipping the young fish to an aquaculture facility or releasing them into appropriate lakes in the area.
Wayne Salewski, Chair of the Community Working Group that runs the hatchery, says input from a biologist would be needed before releasing sturgeon into any local lakes.
Salweski calls the Ministry’s decision to cull such a large number of their juvenile sturgeon unfortunate. Depending on how long it takes to reach and implement a decision, he says the consequences could reach beyond this year.
“We must get those juveniles out of our system. we must clean our hatchery up. We are already fishing for large sturgeon right now for this year’s breeding season and if we cannot move those juveniles out we will actually not have a breeding season. Consequently, we’re actually going to have to lay off several people because if we’ve got no fish, we have no work. It needs to be by the 21st of May – if we have not solved this problem and not got ourselves ready, we will not have a spawning for the whole of next year.”
Salewski says the hatchery is told by the Ministry how many juveniles they can release into the Nechako River each year. Previously, the numbers have been as high as 10-12,000 sturgeon.
“We don’t control that number. We expressed concern – it seems illogical in some ways. A sturgeon takes 40 years have before the female is sexually mature so there’s 40 years before there’s a problem with polluting the river.”
Salewski stresses that the NWSRI is a “facilitator not a decision maker” and says the program could definitely use more resources to track and monitor the number of juvenile fish surviving into adulthood. But there are also practical considerations. Salewski says the hatchery begins each breeding season with up 350,000 eggs.
Chief Thomas says one of her main concerns is the possibility of a similar situation arising in future years. “Our concern is, if they’re going to raise too many, what are they going to do next year?”
“Unless we agree on an annual rearing and release plan or contingency plan, we’re likely to find ourselves in a similar position in coming years, which is unacceptable,” said Carrier Sekani Tribal Chief Terry Teegee in the statement released yesterday.
We will provide an update to this story following the government’s decision this afternoon.