White Sturgeon Making A Strong Comeback In BC's Fraser River

When dozens of white sturgeon began washing up dead on the banks of British Columbia's Fraser River in the mid-1990s, some feared that North America's largest freshwater fish could be headed toward extinction.

Once plentiful in the river, the sturgeon population had dropped below 40,000, and scientists were unable to explain the die-offs of mostly female fish.

That's when an alliance of government agencies, environmentalists, aboriginal groups, and commercial and recreational fishers came together to save the sturgeon, spurring a robust recovery of the lower Fraser River population.

Recent estimates show the population has increased to about 50,000 fish.

To Zeb Hogan, who leads National Geographic's Megafishes Project and has studied the sturgeon, it's a rare success story. (Learn about the world's gargantuan freshwater fish.)

"Worldwide, most species of large freshwater fish are in danger of going extinct in the near future," said Hogan, a National Geographic emerging explorer. (The National Geographic Society operates National Geographic News.)

"The white sturgeon seems to have avoided the fate of species like the Chinese paddlefish of the Yangtze River and the critically endangered giant catfish of the Mekong River."

(Related: "World's Largest Catfish Species Threatened by Dam" [April 8, 2008].)

But Hogan points out that collaborative conservation programs, such as the one in Canada, would be hard to implement in other parts of the world.

For example "in the Mekong River [in southeast Asia] you have six different countries and their governments, 60 million fishermen, scientists, tourists, all of these different groups," he said. Continued at National Geographic
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