In addition to being a magnificent fish—living to be a hundred of years old and the size of a crocodile—the Columbia River white sturgeon is a prized catch for commercial and sport fishermen. It’s also a traditionally important food source for the Yakama. Sturgeon, however, cannot use the fish ladders on dams in the Columbia River and therefore are blocked from returning to upriver spawning habitat. This has hastened their decline.
Strategy: Yakama Nation Fisheries established one of the world’s first sturgeon hatcheries [check ‘first’] in 2008. This ground-breaking work is led by Donella Miller, a Yakama member, and an expert on sturgeon fisheries. In spawning season the hatchery’s holding ponds support sturgeon at every stage in their life cycle—from a magnificent 80-year-old female who eggs will be surgically taken for artificial insemination and spawning, to thousands of newly-hatched sturgeon for release at multiple stages in their life cycle and at different points along the river.
Outcome: In April 2011, the hatchery released 13,000 juvenile sturgeons at Priest Rapids, Wanapum, and Rocky Beach reservoirs on the mid-Columbia River. Yakama Nation Fisheries hopes that by supplementing the sturgeon population, the species will in time recover its historic abundance and can again be regularly harvested.