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Burbot recovery in Kootenay River system will begin in spawning season

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
February 11th, 2024

The recovery of an important First Nation fishery in Kootenay Lake is on.

With a population that was near extinction in the mid-1990s in the lower reaches of Kootenay Lake and the Kootenay River system, burbot — a species of cold water, ray-finned fish — is the subject of an egg collecting effort on now to support its recovery.

Provincial fish biologists and international co-managers are on Moyie Lake this month to catch, tag and release burbot as part of egg collection to support recovery in the Kootenay River and Kootenay Lake.

The Lower Kootenay burbot population once supported First Nations fisheries as well as recreational fisheries in Montana, Idaho and B.C., but when fewer than 50 adult fish were left in the river, a conservation strategy was signed by international co-managers in 2005 — a group that included the Government of B.C., Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Ktunaxa Nation Council, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the University of Idaho.

Under the Lower Kootenay burbot recovery program — which first occurred in 2009 — fertilized eggs from Moyie Lake were successfully raised in a hatchery in Idaho and released back into Kootenay Lake and the Kootenay River. Hatchery-released burbot are surviving well in the Lower Kootenay system.

The egg collecting is necessary due to floodplain alterations along the Kootenay River, resulting burbot not spawning successfully in the river.

“Moyie Lake egg collections are therefore an essential component of the hatchery production until wild spawning is restored,” noted a paper from the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship.

The Moyie Lake burbot population — considered a popular sport and subsistence fishery — is a healthy burbot population with approximately 10,000 adult fish, according to provincial records. Approximately 0.03 per cent of Moyie Lake’s available eggs are collected per year.

An average of 360 fish are handled during the egg-collection efforts in the February spawning period. All burbot handled in the program are tagged and released alive.


Caught on tape

A filming crew will be on Moyie Lake for underwater footage of burbot for a freshwater fish documentary during the same time as egg collection.

The activities of the film crew are separate from, and unconnected to, the burbot recovery program.

People can help refine burbot population estimates by calling (250) 354-6333 when they catch a fish with a tag. In addition to the tag number, anglers are asked to include a description of the location and accurate length, weight and sex of the fish.

Certain tags identify a reward for the person who finds them. If found, people are asked to take a clear photo of the tag or mail it to the regional office, after calling 250 354-6333.

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