British Columbia

'Warrior' sturgeon displaced by B.C. floods rescued from pump station

Volunteers helped save several sturgeon which ended up at the Barrowtown Pump Station after the Sumas dike breached in Abbotsford, B.C., during the floods.

Rescue efforts save 9 trapped sturgeon at Barrowtown Pump Station in Abbotsford

A volunteer from the Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association rescues a trapped sturgeon at the Barrowtown Pump Station in Abbotsford, B.C., last week. (Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association )

Anglers and volunteers in Abbotsford, B.C., have helped save nine sturgeon stranded at the Barrowtown Pump Station after they were displaced from the Sumas River during the floods that devastated the province. 

Chris Kitt, one of a handful of residents living by the station, says when the Sumas dike breached, he became concerned.

"There was going to be fish that would go along with that water, because that's what fish do."

Last week, he and workers at the pump station started to notice that sturgeon — a freshwater fish with its numbers already in decline — had become trapped by the pump grates. Fraser River white sturgeon are the largest and longest-living species of freshwater fish in North America, according to the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, can live 150 years and grow to six metres and 600 kilograms.

"They had to go through a broken dike. They had to end up in a farmer's field. They had to end up in a ditch. I'm guessing some of them literally swam across the freeway," said Kitt. 

City aware of displaced sturgeon in Sumas Canal

The City of Abbotsford says it is aware of sturgeon in the Sumas Canal and is working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to release them back into a nearby, connected stream or river. 

Last week, about 10 volunteers pitched in over three days at the pump station to rescue them, some staying until the early hours of the morning.

While nine sturgeon ranging in size from 1.3 to 1.8 metres were rescued and put back into the Sumas River, two perished and were given to the province for research, said Dean Werk, a member of the Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association (FVAGA), who is professionally trained to handle fish. 

One of the volunteers stayed all night watching over one of the sturgeon that eventually died. It was inside a cradle in the back of a pickup truck. A water hose was running through the night to protect it, Werk said.

Volunteers had a water hose running to protect this sturgeon, however, it was one of the two fish that did not survive the rescue. (Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association )

However, the volunteers noticed its gills were not moving vigorously enough to support its release into the Sumas River. While the crews tried to stabilize it in the tank the next day, the sturgeon did not survive, Werk said. 

The two that perished were likely weakened from the trauma of their journey to the pump station and further strained by the strong currents from the pumps, Kitt said.

9 sturgeon were rescued

Volunteers from the FVAGA assisted with resources such as cradles and an aerated tank from the Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery, which had fresh water and oxygen being supplied to save the fish. The sturgeon were scanned and data was collected for provincial record-keeping, Werk said. 

The crews transported each cradle just over the Barrowtown Pump Station into the Sumas River, which feeds into the Fraser.

How the sturgeon swam so far remains something of a mystery.

"Those fish are warriors. And you know, tell you the truth, I don't know how those fish even made it back to the pump station the way they did," said Werk.

Volunteers load the sturgeon in a cradle for a short drive to the Sumas River and freedom. (Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association )

Kitt and Werk credit the heartfelt efforts of the volunteers.

"Everybody just kept building on each other's passion. And they were all inspired to do the best that we could for the fish," said Werk. 

Volunteers on the lookout for more rescues

While FVAGA has been volunteering since last month to help with flood relief, Werk says funding support, from fuel to equipment costs, is needed to help continue the efforts of saving animals and fish. 

"We are essential as boots on the ground. It's to continue the efforts and amount of work needed for recovery over the next two months." 

The Barrowtown to Abbotsford area will continue to be monitored by members of FVAGA  for more displaced sturgeon, Werk said.

Werk encourages anyone needing assistance with displaced fish to reach out to the FVAGA. 

The City of Abbotsford says anyone finding living or deceased sturgeon or salmon on their property is asked to call the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Emergency Hotline at 604-666-3500.


Baneet Braich

CBC Journalist

Baneet Braich is a journalist with CBC News. Connect with her at or on Twitter at @Baneet_Braich


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