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Lake sturgeon back in safe waters after summer relocation on Mattagami River

In August, OPG employees once again took to the waters in northeastern Ontario to tag and relocate stranded lake sturgeon.

Dan Gibson, OPG Senior Environmental Specialist, and Melodie Tessier, OPG Site Environmental Advisor, with one of the lake sturgeons that was relocated on the Mattagami River.
Dan Gibson, OPG Senior Environmental Specialist, and Melodie Tessier, OPG Site Environmental Advisor, with one of the lake sturgeons that was relocated on the Mattagami River.

The yearly practice takes place after the annual spring freshet along the Mattagami River. When water flows decrease later in the summer, some sturgeon become isolated in pools downstream of the river.

This year’s effort involved OPG Environment staff and members of OPG’s Kapuskasing work centre. Sturgeon were recovered from the waters before being implanted with Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags to track their future movements. The fish were then measured, weighed, and transported by truck to be returned to the upstream portion of the river.

“The lake sturgeon relocation program is a really important part of OPG’s effort to protect and preserve the Lower Mattagami River lake sturgeon population,” said Dan Gibson, Senior Environment Specialist with OPG.

Over the past 100 years, populations of lake sturgeon in Ontario have been significantly diminished by overharvesting, pollution, and habitat loss. But Canada’s largest freshwater fish, which remains a species at risk in Ontario, is mounting a comeback in the Mattagami River, with promising recovery efforts being recorded over the past decade.

The ancient species can live more than 100 years, reach over two metres in length and weigh more than 150 kilograms.

Melodie Tessier, OPG Site Environmental Advisor, holds a lake sturgeon.
Melodie Tessier, OPG Site Environmental Advisor, holds a lake sturgeon.

The relocation program isn’t the only effort OPG has undertaken to spur lake sturgeon recovery. OPG generating stations on the Mattagami River maintain a minimum flow release to support sensitive spawning periods for aquatic species, including sturgeon. The company has also registered nine mitigation plans under the Endangered Species Act to protect lake sturgeon on rivers where it operates across the province.

Over the years, OPG's Northeast Operations and Environment staff have also worked with various agencies, including the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, to survey and monitor sturgeon in the river through tagging and radio telemetry studies.

These efforts speak to OPG’s commitment to sustainable fisheries resources around its facilities and site communities. And it seems to be making a difference, Gibson said.

“The sturgeon are re-establishing a niche for themselves in this ecosystem which is really encouraging to see.”