British Columbia

Photo of B.C. sturgeon with smaller sturgeon in mouth highlights Fraser River food supply concerns

The Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society said the "observation of, possibly, cannibalistic behaviour" is a first.

Colin Bond said in his 30 years on the Fraser River, he's never seen anything like it

A photo of a large sturgeon in B.C.'s Fraser River with another sturgeon in its mouth has raised questions about food supply. (Fraser River Sturgeon Society. )

Colin Bond was in his boat on the Fraser River near the Golden Ears Bridge on Feb. 5 when he came across a bizarre sight.

Something white in the water had caught his eye and he quickly realized it was an upside-down sturgeon. 

"It wasn't moving, so I thought it was dead," Bond said. 

He then noticed something else. 

"It had another smaller sturgeon in its mouth, and it was probably about 20 inches long and I thought it was dead at the same time."

Cannibalistic sturgeon was discovered in the Fraser River. Karl English, a senior vice-president and senior fisheries biologist with LGL Limited, explains this natural anomaly.

Bond said when he tried to grab the sturgeon's fin, it jumped to life and swam away. He motored around the area searching for the fish, but didn't see it again. 

Bond, who has been fishing on the river for 30 years, said he has never seen anything like it.

"They're just looking for food and just happened to find another little sturgeon and I guess he was trying to eat it," he said. "That's the only thing I can think of." 

Bond volunteers with the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, which shared a photo of his discovery on social media. The society said it is concerned about the survival of sturgeon due to habitat loss and lack of food supply.

"This observation of, possibly, cannibalistic behaviour is a first for adult fish and occurs on the heels of a stressed environment for the Fraser River after the floods and low returns of salmon and eulachon," the group said in a Facebook post. 

Karl English, senior vice president and senior fisheries biologist with environmental research and consulting firm LGL Ltd., called the photo "highly unusual."

One possible explanation, he says, is that the two fish may have been feeding in close proximity of one another and the big sturgeon sucked in the smaller one. Sturgeon, he said, tend to feed off of dead fish or things on the bottom of the river, rather than catching live fish and eating them. 

"Because there's not a lot of food in the river these days, they're going to be more concentrated and potentially be in really close quarters with each other," he said.

"This sort of thing can happen when you've got a big suction-type of mouth and smaller fish around. You never know what you're going to get in your mouth."

Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society executive director Sarah Schreier said as apex predators, sturgeon sit at the top of the food chain.

"If they have an issue, then it's a real signal to the health of the Fraser River, so it definitely makes us pay attention," she said.

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