Ron Laidman was walking along a path overlooking the San Juan River, near Port Renfrew, last month when a movement in the water caught his eye.
“It was a big slow circle in the water,” he said.
He was confident he knew what it was right away, and once home, confirmed it: a green sturgeon.
“It’s a pretty rare phenomenon when you do see them. I’ve never seen [sturgeon] in the river,” said Laidman, owner of Remote Renfrew Riverside Retreat.
Over the next week, he spotted three separate green sturgeon – ranging in size from one to three metres – in the San Juan River estuary.
The fish is only found along the west coast of North America, from Alaska to California. They are protected under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
Green sturgeon sightings are rare along the B.C. coast, the federal Fisheries Department said in an email statement. “Every few years,” mostly in the spring, they’re spotted in the Gold, Sooke and San Juan river systems.
They are a long-lived, slow-growing fish, and are vulnerable to many stressors and threats, including blocked access to spawning grounds and habitat degradation.
Green sturgeon are an anadromous fish, which means they can live in both fresh and saltwater. They have a relatively complex life history that includes the spawning and juvenile rearing in rivers followed by migrating to saltwater to feed, grow, and mature before returning to freshwater to spawn.
They are smaller than their larger cousins, the white sturgeon, growing to about 2.3 metres and generally range in colour from olive to dark green.