Prehistoric Creature of the North Saskatchewan River

The North Saskatchewan River is home to a wide diversity of fascinating creatures. Some are feathered, some are furry, and some are scaly. One of the most interesting of these creatures has been on Earth for at least 100 million years. This animal existed while dinosaurs were still walking the planet. This creature is known as a living fossil, since it has lived for many Eras relatively unchanged, while its relatives have gone extinct. They can reach 2 meters in length and 90 kg in weight. Also, these species can live for up to 150 years! This creature is: Lake Sturgeon.

 

These fish are recognizable by their shark-like tail, their thick skin with armour-like plates (called scutes), and their barbels that hang down like a moustache in front of their retractable mouth. Sturgeon are bottom feeders, meaning that they feed on creatures on the bottom of the lakes and rivers in which they live. Their barbels are used to detect food, which they suck up with their toothless mouth, which is located under their head. They mainly feed on small fish, insect larvae, mollusks, crayfish, and fish eggs.

@Tomas Tuma

 

Sturgeon are famous for their expensive eggs, which are considered a delicacy, known as caviar. Lake sturgeon caviar is not as desirable as the beluga, osetra, and sevgura species of sturgeon which live in the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov. These species are all Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red list. Female sturgeon reach sexual maturity after 14-33 years, and are killed for their caviar, often illegally. While their caviar is not as consumed as other sturgeon species, the lake sturgeon’s eggs and meat were overexploited in the 1800s. Today, they are considered Threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act and At Risk under the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. Sturgeon are also threatened by dams, habitat degradation, contaminants, deformations, destruction of spawning grounds, and invasive species. The populations of lake sturgeon are endangered in the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, but the populations are on the rise due to habitat management and fishing regulation. In the North Saskatchewan River, Lake Sturgeon are a catch and release species for sport fishing. There are many locations in Edmonton along the river that anglers report catching sturgeon, including Dawson Park (a known sturgeon spawning location) and Rundle Park.

USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr

 

It can be quite surprising to learn about what lives within the river. Sturgeon are incredible creatures that capture the imaginations of anglers, conservationists, and people of all walks of life. In the news we hear about endangered species going extinct almost every day. Extinction rates on our planet are occurring 1,000 to 10,000 faster than natural extinction rates. It is rare yet affirming that lake sturgeon, which had almost been wiped out of the North Saskatchewan River, are increasing in both population and size. As they grow, this indicates that they are living longer since they never stop growing during their lives. We may not be able to bring dinosaurs back, but with hard work in conservation we can maintain these prehistoric creature’s presence on Earth.

Sources

 

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2002. Status of the Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in Alberta. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Fish and Wildlife Division, and Alberta Conservation Association, Wildlife Status Report No. 46, Edmonton, AB. 30pp.

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. “Lake Sturgeon (Saskatchewan River).” Government of Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Statistical Services, 2006, dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/profiles-profils/sturgeon2-esturgeon-eng.html.

 

Dove, Laurie L. “How Caviar Works.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 8 Mar. 2018, science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/caviar1.htm.

 

Grant, Travis. “Here Be Sturgeons: Fishing in Edmonton.” Vue Weekly, 27 June 2018, www.vueweekly.com/here-be-sturgeons-fishing-in-edmonton/.

 

“Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser Fulvescens).” South Saskatchewan River Basin Water Information | AEP – Environment and Parks, aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/fish/sturgeons/lake-sturgeon/lake-sturgeon.aspx.

 

Snowdon, Wallis. “Big Fish Story: Sturgeon Make a Comeback in North Saskatchewan River | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 24 June 2016, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/sturgeon-north-saskatchewan-river-comeback-1.3649674.

 

“Sturgeon.” WWF, wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/sturgeon/.

 

“The Extinction Crisis.” Centre for Biological Diversity, www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/.

 

Featured image: USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr

 

Ramping up efforts to stop the spread of invasive Zebra Mussels into Alberta

In March, our province unveiled the latest steps in their strategy to prevent invasive zebra mussels from entering our province and becoming established in our waterways. Part of the strategy included mandatory boat inspections, and this summer, Alberta Environment and Parks opened 13 stations across our province. Inspection stations are aided by three permanent mussel-sniffing dogs.

 

Why are they so bad?

 

Zebra mussels have detrimental effects on biodiversity, agriculture, industry, water, and tourism, among others. The mussels colonize both hard and soft surfaces, including docks and boats, and can clog intake structures in power stations and water treatment plants. If they were to become established in our province, zebra mussels could damage 1100 km of canals and pipelines that transport water to Albertans. Economically, the cost of a zebra mussel invasion in Alberta is estimated at $75 million annually.

 

Zebra mussels are filter feeders, meaning they remove good nutrients from the water, leaving little food for native species. This rapidly decreases biodiversity in our waterways. It also increases sunlight availability in our watersheds, increasing the growth of aquatic vegetation as well as light available for toxic algae blooms. By colonizing surfaces, they cover important spawning grounds, and can impact the survival of fish eggs3.

 

 

Are they in Alberta?

 

So far, zebra mussels have not been identified in Alberta waterways – but that doesn’t mean we’re safe; several infested boats have been intercepted entering the province in the last few years, many of which are coming from areas with known zebra mussel infestations in the U.S. and parts of Eastern Canada.

 

How do they get here?

 

Zebra Mussels attach themselves to boats and other recreational equipment. They are found in many parts of North America, including the Colorado River system in the U.S., a popular destination for Alberta snowbirds1. When boats aren’t carefully cleaned, drained, and dried, the zebra mussels can be transported back to Alberta waterways without boat owners knowing.

 

What is the province doing?

 

Along with mandatory boat inspections, Alberta has recently enacted changes to legislation that makes boat and watercraft inspections mandatory on major highways coming into the province2.

 

This is accompanied by Alberta Environment and Parks “Clean, Drain, Dry” Education campaign, and a 24-hour invasive species hotline.

 

What can I do to help?

 

If you own a boat, especially if you are transporting it across borders, make sure you clean and inspect your watercraft, trailer and gear. Make sure to drain all water from bait buckets, ballasts, bilges, coolers, internal compartments, or any other area that water might be stored. Lastly, dry your watercraft and gear between trips. Read more here.

 

If you think you’ve spotted a zebra mussel, call Alberta’s invasive species hotline at 1.855.336.BOAT (2628).

 

Resources

 

  1. Aquatic Invasive Species. Alberta Environment and Parks. (June 25, 2015). Retrieved from http://esrd.alberta.ca/recreation-public-use/invasive-species/aquatic-invasive-species/default.aspx
  2. Watercraft Inspections. Alberta Environment and Parks. (June 23, 2015). Retrieved from: http://esrd.alberta.ca/recreation-public-use/invasive-species/aquatic-invasive-species/watercraft-inspections.aspx
  3. Zebra and Quagga Mussels. Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program. (2012). Retrieved from: http://www.invadingspecies.com/invaders/invertebrates/zebra-and-quagga-mussels/.