Facebook pictures posted Oct. 25 show a group of fishermen mishandling a white sturgeon caught in the lower Fraser River.
The group appears to have used a large net to catch the threatened fish and hold it up gleefully for multiple photos. The apparent manhandling of the sturgeon is in direct defiance of B.C.’s “guidelines for angling white sturgeon,” which in reference to handling the prehistoric giant, states: “Never squeeze or hug sturgeon. Keep your fingers away from the gills and out of the gill plates.”
The photo shoot defies the government’s directions to “always leave the sturgeon in the water” and to “have your camera ready and be quick” if you want a photo.
Sarah Schreier, executive director at Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, says the photos show clear mishandling.
“They’re hugging that fish to their bodies. If you look at the protocols, that’s one of the key things: Never hug a fish to your body, keep them supported,” she says, adding the unique physiology of the sturgeon puts it at increased risk of harm.
“Sturgeon are an apex species, and very long-lived but also, they’re cartilage fish. So their physiology is very different than a salmon or a trout,” she explains. “If they’re overly bent, that can cause concern around potential injuries to their spine and other parts.”
B.C. guidelines state never to lift a large sturgeon out of the water because it can suffocate, and adds that “large sturgeon are at risk of internal injuries due to their own weight.”
Schreier says the photos misrepresent how the fish should be handled. “It does a disservice to people who do handle them properly,” she adds.
Most white sturgeon populations in B.C. are protected under the federal Species at Risk Act, limiting fishing activities to catch and release only. Classified as threatened, recovery plans to prevent further loss of and preserve the remaining gene pool include the handling guidelines to leave the fish in water at all times.
“This is a hardy species, they’ve outlived two ice ages, they’re dinosaurs!” Schreier says. “They have an unbelievable ability to adapt…That’s extraordinary but we can’t take that for granted.”
Representatives from the Lower Fraser Fishing Alliance could not be reached for comment.
The fate of the white sturgeon pictured is unknown.