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Kids help release white sturgeon into Nechako River

The Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Centre event was held in Vanderhoof Friday

Area elementary school students had the opportunity to help send young white sturgeon back into the Nechako River in Vanderhoof Friday.

The kids and their teachers joined representatives of the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative along the river for the annual Juvenile Sturgeon Release. It's meant to provide an opportunity for students to have hands-on experience as juvenile white sturgeon, spawned at the Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Centre, were released.

It was held at Riverside Park and was hosted by the initiative along with Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C., School District 91 and the District of Vanderhoof, and involved students from public, private and First Nation schools, as well as home-schooled children.

This was the 10th anniversary of the event. Several elected officials were on hand, including Prince George-Valemont MLA Shirley Booth, Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen, Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako Chair Mark Parker, Regional District of Fraser-Fort George Chair Lara Beckett and Houston Mayor Shane Brienen. Cullen is the province's minister of water, land and resource stewardship.

The learning experience started several weeks prior, with classroom sessions on the biology of the prehistoric-looking fish, their life cycles, and conservation. At the event itself, each class names and releases a sturgeon into the river.

This year, the initiative is releasing the fish at their two-year mark, with organizers noting that releasing them at the one-year mark, as was done in the past, put the fish at increased risk from predators like otters and osprey. At two, they are larger and have a better chance of success.

The fish have PIT (passive integrated transponder) tags that provides a unique identification number so that if the sturgeon is caught later during juvenile monitoring program, that sturgeon can be traced back to the student or class.

The growth and movement measurements are then recorded and reported on the Where is My Fish database, allowing kids to track their progress.

Once the class's fish is released the students can learn more through a series of educational stations set up at the park. The children learned more about the sturgeon, including the fact that they spawn only in a two-kilometre section of the river nearby and that some have been known to grow to as much as seven feet long.