A First Nation in central B.C. says low salmon runs this year are forcing its members to buy expensive food-grade fish from local grocery stores to use as bait for catching sturgeons, which it has been studying for nearly two decades.
Since 2003, the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council has studied how endangered sturgeon in the upper Fraser River survive in hatcheries and in the wild. The council has learned over the years that sockeye salmon is the best bait for catching the juvenile white sturgeons for research.
But salmon returns this year have hit an all-time low. The early Stuart sockeye run is estimated to be 16,000, which is only a fraction of its 500,000 peak. The late Stuart and Stellako sockeye runs are at 55,000, which is far less than their historical peak of over 1.6 million.
Due to the lack of wild fish, Christina Ciesielski, the council's fisheries program manager and head researcher on white sturgeons, had to spend more than $1,200 on 30 kilograms of salmon from Save-On-Foods and another store.
"It's been very costly," said Ciesielski to Faith Fundal, guest host of CBC's Daybreak North.
The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council has been able to buy sockeye salmon raised by neighbouring First Nations. It has considered sourcing the salmon from other First Nations further away, but is worried the fish may bring pathogens across watersheds.
Ciesielski said she's been asking Fisheries and Oceans Canada for years to increase funding for training the council's member nations to run new hatcheries in order to ensure steady sockeye salmon supply.
"We found some surplus money to pay for it, but otherwise we don't have a budget of over $1,200 to buy bait," she said.
The council cites high water temperatures and last year's Big Bar landslide — which blocked salmon migration on the Fraser — as possible reasons for the low salmon returns this year.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada lists the white sturgeon as an endangered species.
Tap the link below to listen to Christina Ciesielski's interview on Daybreak North: