Flood-stranded sturgeon pushed, pulled and carried back to the Fraser River

November 27, 2021
Flood-stranded sturgeon pushed, pulled and carried back to the Fraser River

A flood-stranded sturgeon is now back in the comfortable confines of the main stem of the Fraser River thanks to the volunteer efforts and cardiovascular capacity of two angling guides, who pushed, pulled and carried the giant fish two kilometres to deep water.

The sturgeon was discovered by a helicopter crew flying near British Columbia’s Herrling Island, between Hope and Agassiz, on Thursday.

Video sent to the Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association (FVAGA) shows it struggling in an isolated and shallow pool left behind by receding floodwaters from recent catastrophic rains in B.C.

After seeing the video, the FVAGA jumped into action, dispatching two professional sturgeon guides — Tyler Buck and Jay Gibson — on a catch-and-release mission like no other.

“They were actually upriver doing debris collection and picking up garbage … when the call came in,” said Kevin Estrada, FVAGA director. “They were obviously very happy they could help out in any way.”

A short video posted by the FVAGA shows Buck and Gibson slogging through thigh-high brown water — one at the head of a custom cradle holding the giant fish, the other at the tail.

“We’re at about a kilometre and a half right now,” Gibson says, between gulps of air.  “Half a [kilometre] to go to get to the river.”

What the video doesn’t show are the three overland portages where the men had to carry the two-metre-long, nearly 100-kilogram sturgeon to get to its final deep-water destination.

Estrada said the fish was in good condition when it was released back into the main stem of the Fraser.

“It swam away very strong and healthy. And I’m sure one day down the road, they will see that fish again at some point,” he said. “Sturgeon are very resilient, right? They survived three ice ages and they’re very hardy fish.”

The Fraser River sturgeon fishery is strictly catch-and-release. The species is prehistoric and can be traced back 65 million years.

Fraser River white sturgeon are the largest and longest-living species of freshwater fish in North America, according to the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, and can live 150 years and grow to six metres and 600 kilograms.

However, the species is considered endangered and its numbers are in decline.

The non-profit Fraser River Angling Guides Association has been running upward of 15 volunteer boats a day along the river since the flood devastation of two weeks ago, bringing people, pets and livestock to safety and delivering food, medicine and other supplies to residents cut off from services.

The sturgeon was spotted in a side channel of the Fraser River by a helicopter crew flying near British Columbia’s Herrling Island, between Hope and Agassiz, on Thursday. (Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association)

Estrada says the high water levels mean there’s bound to be a lot of displaced fish, including salmon. And although this was the first sturgeon rescue, there’s likely to be more.

“We’re going to find fish that are in a farmer’s field. We’re going to find fish, once the water drops, in a lot of areas that they aren’t normally in,” he said.

“Thankfully, it’s only one. But we’re going to have to keep our eyes open for more sturgeon recoveries as the water drops.”

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