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Hatchery Help Tribe bolsters sturgeon, burbot

From the Summer 2015 Issue

Doug Marshall, Chris Bier

Nestled on 10 acres at the confluence of the Kootenai and the Moyie rivers in Boundary County, the new Twin Rivers Sturgeon and Burbot Hatchery (TRSBH) was busy preparing for the anticipated April 2015 hatch of burbot, the first batch since the $15 million facility opened near the end of 2014.

The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho (KTOI) started its aquaculture conservation program in 1988 with the intention of restoring the endangered white sturgeon to the Kootenai River. Over the years, expanding needs took their original Tribal Sturgeon Hatchery to capacity both physically and functionally. Limits on water resources and space prevented further growth of the facility.


While continuing to operate the original hatchery for white sturgeon production, the new facility gives the KTOI room for expanded sturgeon operations and provides a failsafe that previously meant sending fish to Canada.

According to KTOI Aquaculture Program Manager Shawn Young: “Some of the families that were spawned at the Kootenai Tribal Hatchery were transported up to the B.C. Hatchery and reared up there under contract, so that, if one or the other of the facilities had any major issues, there could still be some sturgeon for each year class released into the river.”

Even with the space dedicated to sturgeon, the new 33,000-square-foot main hatchery building has plenty of room for rearing burbot and the live food they depend on for survival. Young compared the specially designed live feed area to having a third hatchery under the same roof.

At the Tribal Sturgeon Hatchery, the only water option is ambient river water, which means in the winter, when water temperatures plummet, fish growth drops to nothing. “At the Twin Rivers Hatchery, we have the ability to do a whole host of things, rearing on ambient river water, or you can raise them on heated ground water to get them to a significantly larger size. The post release data suggests that if they’re bigger at release, they tend to survive better. And also, if you release in the spring-early summer, they tend to survive better. So, we implemented more water sources, more rearing tanks,” said Young.

On a typical day, work starts with the hatchery staff at both facilities making observations and measurements of all the tanks that support live fish or animals. At the same time, water flow and temperatures may be adjusted and everything is fed. Once the live portion is handled, work moves to verification that all of the equipment and support systems are operational.

Specialty tasks, such as setting up tanks or equipment, or getting ready for the next life stage, also takes up time daily. Fieldwork varies by season, whether it’s collecting wild sturgeon from the Kootenai River for brood stock or the processing of spawning burbot on the ice of Moyie Lake in British Columbia.

In addition to the main hatchery building at Twin Rivers, there is a 7,000-square-foot vehicle maintenance and storage building; two residences for employees; two concrete settling ponds and two groundwater wells; and all of the necessary equipment for pumping and storing surface water from the rivers.

The new TRSBH is exactly what the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative intended, when it spelled out objectives in the 2005 Burbot Conservation Strategy: a functional, expandable site suitable for meeting the critical needs of burbot conservation staffed with dedicated professionals. 

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