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Lake Sturgeon get a second chance to flourish in Northwestern Ontario

A fish that has cultural significance for many Indigenous peoples is getting a second chance to thrive in the upper Winnipeg River in Northwestern Ontario.

Over the past 100 years, the population of lake sturgeon in the river has been decimated due to overharvesting and pollution. But conditions have improved for Canada’s largest freshwater fish, a threatened species in Ontario, to stage a potential comeback.

Children of the Dalles First Nation get a close look at a juvenile lake sturgeon.
Children of the Dalles First Nation get a close look at a juvenile lake sturgeon.

The Ochiichagwe’babigo’ining Ojibway Nation near Kenora, also known as the Dalles First Nation, has launched a lake sturgeon recovery program in partnership with OPG and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. OPG, which is providing financial support, hopes to help bring this sacred fish back to glory.

“The number of juvenile and adult lake sturgeon in the upper Winnipeg River is still very minimal,” said Adrienne Igo, acting site environmental advisor at OPG’s Northwestern Operations. “A rebound in sturgeon population is not something you see overnight.”

To kick off the recovery project, students, elders and members of the Dalles First Nation took part in a ceremonial event to release 12 juvenile sturgeon into the Winnipeg River. Elders and volunteers carefully pulled the metre-long fish out of holding tanks and carried them to the river bank to reintroduce them to the First Nation’s traditional waters.

Members of the First Nation hope these young sub-adults, each around 10 to 14 years old, can spawn a self-sustaining population in the upper portion of the river, which spans from Kenora to OPG’s Whitedog Falls Generating Station.

Full grown sturgeon can reach up to 2.5 metres in length, weigh up to 180 kilograms, and live more than 100 years.

Also present at the release were members of the Rainy River First Nation, which has also partnered with Dalles in the recovery program.

About 20 years ago, the Rainy River First Nation successfully rehabilitated the lake sturgeon population in its own ancestral waters of Rainy River near Emo. The 12 sturgeon were selected from the river and donated to Dalles First Nation in a gesture of goodwill.

Before they were deployed, each sturgeon had a transmitter surgically implanted. Sixteen acoustic receivers placed throughout the river will help biologists track the sturgeons’ movements and allow the First Nation to learn more about their sacred fish.

With luck and time, this species will be flourishing once again. Depending on how well these 12 juveniles fare, a few thousand sturgeon fingerlings could be reintroduced to the river next year.