The seventh annual International Symposium on Sturgeon (ISS), the “living fossils” of the sea, brought interest from around the world to Sechelt to tour Target Marine Hatcheries and learn more about their practices last month.
“We had two days of tours of people flying over from Nanaimo and then touring the site, probably about 40 people,” said hatchery manager Justin Henry, adding guests came from Japan, China, Poland, Austria, France, Israel, Turkey, Russia and the United States. “We were showing people really everything that we do here and showing them our new processing plant as well, which without exception everyone was impressed with.”
The guests also shared their knowledge of sturgeon farming and caviar harvesting with Target Marine.
“It was an exchange of information really. Some of the groups that are farming sturgeon in other countries have more experience than we do and there was a really good exchange of ideas and information both from the tours and at the symposium,” Henry said.
The international symposium is held every four years by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society in different places around the world. This year it was held in Nanaimo at the newly built International Centre for Sturgeon Studies and focused on seven major themes: conservation and protection, stock assessment, human impacts, public engagement, aquaculture, caviar and processing, and international trade and traceability.
“The goal of ISS meetings is to bring together scientists, policy-makers, conservationists, farmers, technologists, industry and other stakeholders to examine topics critical to sturgeon,” a press release from the symposium stated.
Sturgeon are an important fish in the ecosystem and they’ve remained largely unchanged for more than 160 million years; however, their future is uncertain.
“Globally wild sturgeon stocks are in deep trouble so there’s a global interest in finding out how we can save those fish that have been here for over 100 million years. The stocks are in steep decline,” Henry said. “It’s a combination of things including overfishing, poaching, loss of protection of habitat and pollution and other factors — we don’t know what they all are.”
He explained that the Caspian Sea used to hold most of the world’s sturgeon farmed for caviar, but in 1991, when the U.S.S.R. fell, the country lost control of that fishery.
“Now the fishery’s gone down to zero, nothing, in such a short time. It’s similar to what we saw in the Fraser River 100 years earlier, and we almost wiped them out,” Henry said. “Now aquaculture is developing and producing those fish, supplying the sturgeon meat, supplying the caviar and is gradually taking the pressure off of the wild stocks.”
This year Target Marine Hatcheries (marketing as Northern Divine caviar) was one of the sponsors of the symposium, along with the government of Canada, the provincial government, the Vancouver Aquarium and the World Aquaculture Society, among others.
“We felt like one of the hosts here for this symposium and we’ve been building up our contacts and relationships with these different sturgeon groups from around the world, and finally we held the symposium here so we wanted to be a part of that,” Henry said. “The symposium really brought together the world experts and it was a fantastic exchange of ideas. I think it really set the stage for moving forward on lots of different aspects of sturgeon conservation and sturgeon farming.”