Winter 2021 | Cascade Fishing Adventures
I’ve worn a lot of hats in an effort to make a living, and do so in a manner that is personally fulfilling and meaningful.
By way of formal education, I am a forestry technician and fisheries technician. By way of life’s lessons, I have been a framer/carpenter and as an angling guide business operator (over 30 years). All of the tasks I’ve undertaken have in one form or another, assisted each task. One may ask how framing a house can help with the others, but the simple requirement of organizing oneself to build each step according to plan in an efficient manner applies to all jobs or tasks. Forestry, of which I spent nearly 20 years of my life, involved sharpening observational skills; converting what you see on the ground to the biological and geographical requirements of the plant and tree life around you. Understanding forest ecology is essential. Fisheries work has assisted in putting biological principles in play to convert “ground-truths” into understanding the needs of various fish species. Which brings me to the topic of this post.
As we ring in the New Year, the Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association (FVAGA) is in full sampling mode to locate juvenile white sturgeon on the Fraser river. As the Chair of the FVAGA, our Board of Directors deemed it important to provide our membership the opportunity to assist in filling data gaps with respect to Fraser river juvenile white sturgeon. What group of people could be more capable of locating and capturing juvenile sturgeon than experienced sturgeon guides that annually spend hundreds or thousands of days collectively on the lower Fraser river, learning every day the subtleties of sturgeon behaviour? One of those information gaps is to determine a population estimate of juvenile white sturgeon. Consistent efforts for 3 – 5 years will provide data to determine numbers of juvenile sturgeon and recruitment levels. Recruitment levels is a term that basically encompasses determining the number of sturgeon that are borne into the population. Government biologists are uncertain of juvenile sturgeon recruitment, and need specific data to assist with them with the implementation of specific management policies to protect all age classes of Fraser river white sturgeon for the future.
Capturing juvenile white sturgeon is well known to be most effective in the winter months. It is suspected that with lower river levels and cool temperatures, juvenile sturgeon will bunch up in numbers in specific locations and habitat types. During this time, anglers can generally avoid capturing larger sturgeon as these larger fish seem to be less interested in feeding during cold water temperatures.
Capturing juvenile sturgeon is the first step. Sometimes you simply get lucky and find them, other times you need to take information from one successful location and attempt to replicate that success using the metrics of previously known juvenile holding areas. Tagging and recording the data is the next step. If the fish captured has been tagged previously, we will record the tag number, as well as the location (by river kilometer, to identify possible migrations or seasonal movements), fork length and girth (for growth rates) and condition of the fish. If the captured fish has not been tagged, samplers will deploy a PIT tag (passive integrated transponder) into the fish. PIT tags are inserted subsurface of the fish’s skin, on the fish’s left side near the dorsal edge, behind the head, and can only be found utilizing a PIT tag reader or scanner. Consistent and sustained effort is another piece of the puzzle. By way of mathematical formulas, a population estimate can be achieved by capturing and comparing tagged fish numbers with untagged fish numbers. The more samples achieved, the higher the confidence of the population estimate. That’s it in a nutshell.
Going back to the topic of the FVAGA, our organization put a formal proposal in to the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund (HCTF) to secure funding for the FVAGA to perform the capture and tagging portion of the Juvenile Monitoring Project. Using a very basic approach that consists of a significant voluntary effort, community involvement and paid sampling opportunity, the FVAGA’s proposal was selected for the 2020/2021 sampling season. Funding provides support for some paid tagging effort throughout the year and the entire 180 kilometer reach of the lower Fraser, PIT tags, waterproof tag sheets and needles for inserting the tags.
It is important to mention that the HCTF funding is a result of the White Sturgeon Conservation Stamp that is required for all anglers to fish for sturgeon. Angling guides generate significant funds to HCTF, by way of interested sturgeon anglers locally, nationally and internationally. Recreational angling for sturgeon is also a significant contributor to HCTF funding. The proceeds of this surcharge, which is estimated at $350 000 annually, is used to learn more about the sturgeon of the Fraser river. The Juvenile Monitoring Project is but one project that is HCTF funded, and requires a small monetary portion of the annual fees generated to HCTF by sturgeon anglers.
While we are sampling, the FVAGA in partnership with the British Columbia Wildlife Federation (BCWF), developed a community-based program to provide interested citizens to join our guides during their volunteer sampling efforts. By way of the BCWF’s Reel Fishing Program, there are 6 proposed dates starting in mid-February which offer opportunities for interested citizens to participate in a day of juvenile sturgeon sampling. Last year, the FVAGA and the BCWF were able to provide 3 outings for up to 20 people per event, to learn about sturgeon and specifically the juvenile sturgeon sampling program and participate in “citizen science”. I enjoyed meeting all of the participants and sharing our knowledge of Fraser river sturgeon to them – everyone leaves the process richer with information and a new respect for Fraser river sturgeon. We can’t wait to meet the participants this year – there will be 6 opportunities to join in, so if this sounds interesting to you, please contact the BCWF Reel Fishing Program, Tobias Roehr at firstname.lastname@example.org
At this time, the FVAGA has submitted a new juvenile monitoring proposal for HCTF’s consideration for the next fiscal year. Juvenile abundance information is currently receiving a high priority by the Province’s fisheries branch. Consistent annual sampling is required to achieve sound data that can be used to determine the health of juvenile sturgeon for the future and for British Columbia residents. The FVAGA hopes to continue being a part of this effort.