Hydro’s Nelson River sturgeon plan problematic: expert

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A Canadian expert on lake sturgeon poured cold water Wednesday on Manitoba Hydro’s plans to re-stock the Nelson River with the prehistoric fish after the Keeyask generating station is built.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/11/2013 (3300 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Canadian expert on lake sturgeon poured cold water Wednesday on Manitoba Hydro’s plans to re-stock the Nelson River with the prehistoric fish after the Keeyask generating station is built.

Stephan Peake, associate professor of biology at the University of New Brunswick, testified at the Clean Environment Commission that while he applauds Hydro’s goals, they might be overly ambitious. That’s because the survival rate of sturgeon fingerling, raised in fish hatcheries, has been wildly erratic.

Peake also told the CEC panel Hydro expects survival rates of 20 to 40 per cent for stocked fall fingerlings, but that there is almost no solid data on over-winter survival rates of stocked lake sturgeon in Canada, and the little research that does exist suggests these rates might be overly optimistic.

supplied photo A juvenile sturgeon.

He said Hydro should instead focus its program on stocking smaller numbers of larger fish in the late spring when conditions are more favourable for survival and growth.

“I’m being over-cautious about it because I think the idea of stocking fish and bringing the Nelson River population back up using that technique it the way to go,” Peake said. “I really hope it works.”

Manitoba Hydro and the province recently signed an agreement worth $1 million over the next five years to reintroduce sturgeon to the Nelson River 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.

Lake sturgeon were almost fished out of existence in Manitoba a century ago and are slowly making a comeback. 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.

Peake, who was testifying as an expert witness for the Consumers’ Association of Canada, Manitoba, also recommended to the CEC that Hydro lower its expectations for sturgeon survival and develop a more robust monitoring plan.

The CEC is currently hearing evidence about Hydro’s plans for the 695-megawatt dam as part of the process for deciding whether an environmental licence for the project should be issued.

Consumers’ Association executive director Gloria Desorcy said Peake was called so that there are other voices besides Hydro and the province’s on the re-introduction of sturgeon.

“Keeyask is a big decision for Manitobans,” she said. “It’s proposed to be built in an already compromised environment. There are people living up there. This is a part of Manitoba. It’s not like there’s a big line that says here’s where the north ends and the rest of Manitoba starts. It’s all one environment. Everything that happens up north impacts the entire province.”

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

 

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