Burbot restoration continues to make progress.
Burbot (Lota lota maculosa) are freshwater cod native to the Kootenai River in Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia. Burbot are culturally significant to the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho (KTOI) and Idaho’s Kootenai River burbot population once supported tribal sustenance harvests and popular sport and commercial fisheries. Drastic population declines have occurred over the last half-century, primarily due to habitat alteration and loss. This population is now considered functionally extinct within Idaho borders. According to Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), the lowest recorded estimates for Kootenai River burbot were approximately 50 fish.
To re-establish a burbot population in the Kootenai River, the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative (KVRI) convened a burbot sub-committee to help develop a coordinated burbot conservation strategy. Development of burbot culture is one component of a larger multifaceted, international conservation approach that includes habitat restoration. Beginning in 2003, the KTOI, the University of Idaho’s Aquaculture Research Institute (UI-ARI) and the British Columbia Ministry of Environment (BCMoE) initiated a research program to assess the feasibility of conservation aquaculture as an interim burbot restoration measure.
Spawning and semen cryopreservation methods were developed first, followed by incubation methods and larval and juvenile rearing strategies involving intensive, semi-intensive, and extensive culture methods. Additional research to characterize burbot disease susceptibility and to establish burbot cell lines for diagnostic purposes was recently completed. With these fundamental methods in place, aided by the knowledge gained through recent disease susceptibility studies conducted at the UI-ARI, the experimental program enabled the first experimental release of cultured burbot in British Columbia and Idaho. To date, over 60,000 juveniles have been released, with resultant recaptures showing significant population increases in only a few years.
The success of this experimental project paves the way for ongoing burbot conservation aquaculture research, and facilitates needed post-release in-river burbot studies. Burbot aquaculture research continues to focuse on optimizing techniques for intensive rearing, semi-intensive and extensive culture methods, and determining temperature related growth performance.
As part of this collaborative international project, numerous reports and peer reviewed papers have been published on various aspects of burbot aquaculture, pathology, and management. This body of literature has contributed substantially to this developing field and would not have been possible without the support and cooperation of the Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, KVRI, the KTOI fisheries program, the BCMoE, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the IDFG, Cramer Fish Sciences, and the UI-ARI. University of Idaho researchers continue to communicate with European burbot researchers and culturists, further contributing to the success of the Idaho program, and to burbot conservation and restoration in Europe and North America.