Searching for the Dinosaurs of the Fraser

Biologists and recreational anglers alike regard the Fraser River White Sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus, as one of the most elusive and sought after fish species throughout Western Canada. White Sturgeons can exceed eight meters in length and 100 years of age, making them one of the largest and oldest species of fish in North America. Sturgeons are listed as Endangered in the Upper Fraser, Columbia and Kootenay Rivers and Threatened in the Lower Fraser River. Sturgeons in the Middle Fraser, including Lillooet populations, remain unlisted.

Biologists working alongside Lheidli T’enneh First Nations in Prince George, British Columbia, have intensively studied White Sturgeons within the Upper Fraser River watershed. To learn about this research and increase our local capacity to study and handle Sturgeons, two Splitrock employees, Corrie Allen and Travis Rankin, traveled to Prince George and spent two days on the Fraser River participating in an experimental field biology tour.

As part of this program, Corrie and Travis had the unique opportunity to observe and practice techniques including: setline and angling approaches to capturing Sturgeons; proper handling techniques; determining sex through surgery; suturing techniques; and, PIT and radio tagging Sturgeons.

In Lillooet, an existing PIT tagging program lead by a local Conservation Officer and assisted by Sturgeon Operators has had success in monitoring Sturgeon captures throughout the Middle Fraser. This program has been ongoing for several years and has contributed to our understanding of Sturgeons in this area.

Here at Splitrock, we are excited to take these techniques and knowledge back to Lillooet for a new Sturgeon project that Splitrock and St’at’imc Eco-Resources will collaboratively implement this summer. The objective of this new initiative is to support and promote the conservation of White Sturgeon populations in the Middle Fraser by engaging aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities to better understand local Sturgeon biology, the current and cumulative impacts on local sturgeons, and to provide a strategic plan for studying and monitoring the Middle Fraser Sturgeon moving forward.

If you are interested in getting involved with this work or would like to learn more, contact Splitrock at: 250-256-0002 or email Corrie at


Corrie showing off the team’s first catch.

Travis waiting a bite.

Sturgeons were placed onto a fish ‘stretcher’ where they were processed and subsequently released. In the above image, a Biologist is carefully performing surgery to determine the sex of the sturgeon. This technique can only be used on larger fish.

The team caught and processed an 8.5 ft fish, weighing in at 232 pounds. Because no PIT tag was found in this fish, this is believed to be the first time it has had contact with humans. Interestingly, because of its size, Biologists predicted this fish could be over 100 years old.

To identify the precise age of a Sturgeon, a small piece of the leading ray on the pectoral fin is removed. In a lab, Biologists can then count the number of rings in the sample to determine age, much like tree rings are used to age trees.



by Splitrock Environmental