Lake Sturgeon, almost fished out of existence in Manitoba a century ago, are slowly making a comeback.
The amount is unknown, as is whether more can be done to increase numbers of the prehistoric fish in locales, including rivers where hydro dams have been built.
Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said the province recently inked an agreement with Manitoba Hydro to increase efforts to reintroduce sturgeon in rivers and lakes where they were once abundant.
Mackintosh said the NDP will spend $250,000 during the next five years toward research on the recovery of the fish in the province's waterways. Hydro is to contribute $50,000 annually.
Over-fishing, hydro dams and other water-control structures pose the greatest risk to sturgeon because their natural movement is impeded.
Hydro has agreed to advance the recovery of sturgeon in the north, particularly on the Nelson River, which is to see the Keeyask generating station built in the next few years.
"We know that with continued Hydro development it will be important to have a good handle on the success of re-population efforts on our northern rivers," Mackintosh said. "With Keeyask, obviously there is a very live concern about mitigating against any decline in sturgeon populations."
Efforts to reintroduce the fish to the province began in 1992. Remnant populations have survived in some rivers and lakes, but in small numbers. Manitoba Hydro has operated a fish hatchery in Grand Rapids since 1989 and releases sturgeon into rivers after they turn one year old.
Since 1997, the Crown corporation has been involved in research at looking at building better fishways around dams to give access to upstream spawning habitat.
Mackintosh and Hydro division manager Ed Wojckynski said the agreement between the government and Hydro is intended to better co-ordinate recovery efforts under the lake sturgeon management strategy.
Wojckynski said more importantly, Hydro's plan for Keeyask includes reintroducing sturgeon to the Nelson River below the proposed dam in time to allow First Nations to harvest the fish downstream at Stephens Lake without reducing the population. Lake sturgeon spawn after age 25 and they can live up to 100 years.
"Our objective is to increase the population of sturgeon in the reach compared to where they are today," he said. "Right now there isn't any evidence of spawning happening there."
Wojckynski said Hydro also plans to install a fish passage at Keeyask after the dam is built, once it's determined how the dam has altered the river's patterns and fish behaviour.
"Why go to all this effort? They are an iconic species. They're an important species for the aboriginal people.
"And I think we have a social responsibilty to make sure they survive. Africa has its elephants, we've got these fish that can grow to 100 years old," Wojckynski said.
Lake sturgeon are not protected under Canada's Species At Risk Act or Manitoba's Endangered Species Act. There is no commercial harvest of sturgeon and sport fishing is strictly catch-and-release.
Mackintosh said under the agreement with Hydro, an annual report has to be prepared to document efforts to reintroduce sturgeon in the north and in the Assiniboine River.