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DID YOU KNOW? White sturgeon are the largest freshwater fish in North America and can weigh over 1,500 pounds, be 20 feet in length, and live for over 100 years.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Acipenser transmontanus, acipenser is an old world name meaning sturgeon and transmontanus meaning beyond the mountains.
COMMON NAMES: Pacific sturgeon, Oregon sturgeon, Columbia sturgeon, and Sacramento sturgeon.
DESCRIPTION: Like the green sturgeon the white sturgeon is a primitive, bottom dwelling fish. It is characterized by its large body size, large head and mouth, and long cylindrical body. It has four barbels located in front of its large, wide and toothless mouth, located on the bottom (ventral) side of its head. It has no scales, but "scutes" along its body for protection. Scutes are actually large modified scales, that serve as a type of armor or protection. White sturgeon have 11-14 scutes in front of their single dorsal fin, no scutes behind the dorsal, 38-48 scutes on the side, and 9-12 bottom (ventral) scutes. Dorsal color is dark to light gray, pale olive, or gray-brown. The white sturgeon's ventral or bottom surface is white. The scutes are lighter than the body in color, and the fins are dusky to opaque gray.
LIFECYCLE: The white sturgeon is a slow growing, late maturing anadromous fish. White sturgeon spawn in large rivers in the spring and summer months and remain in fresh water while young. Older juveniles and adults are commonly found in rivers, estuaries, and marine environments.
Anadromous white sturgeon most commonly move into large rivers in the early spring, and spawn May through June. Spawning usually takes place in swift current with a rocky bottom, near rapids. White sturgeon can spawn multiple times during their life, and apparently spawn every 4-11 years as they grow and mature. Females can produce from 100,000 to several million eggs each. Older white sturgeon produce more eggs and wait longer times between spawns. Adults apparently broadcast spawn in the water column and the fertilized eggs sink and attach to the bottom to hatch. Research shows that eggs can hatch in 4 days to 2 weeks, depending on water temperature, and it has been estimated that white sturgeon reach maturity in 15-25 years.
RANGE: In North America, white sturgeon are found from Ensenada, Mexico to Cook Inlet, Alaska. Found in most estuaries along the Pacific coast, white sturgeon prefer estuaries of large rivers. However, it is rare to find white sturgeon in Puget Sound or Hood Canal, Washington.
HABITAT AND ECOLOGY: White sturgeon rely on streams, rivers, and estuarine habitat as well as marine waters during their lifecycle. White sturgeon prefer to spawn in rivers with swift currents and large cobble; no nest is built. Research indicates that water flow is one of the key determinants of larval survival.
Young white sturgeon primarily feed on algae and aquatic insects while remaining in rivers and estuarine environments. White sturgeon primarily feed on fish, shellfish, crayfish, and on various aquatic invertebrates, clams, amphipods, and shrimp.
The building of dams has negatively impacted white sturgeon by creating landlocked populations and destroying spawning grounds by altering water flow. White sturgeon do not normally use fish ladders, so bypass mitigation measures tend to be unsuccessful.
Because of its long life span white sturgeon tend to concentrate pollutants in their flesh. Bioaccumulation of PCBs and other contaminants inhibit sturgeon growth and decrease egg and larval survival. As a result, industrial pollutants as well as chemicals washing off farm, forest, urban, and residential lands all negatively impact white sturgeon.
ECONOMIC VALUE: A significant economic and cultural resource throughout the Northwest, white sturgeon recently became a popular target fishery with major commercial landings in the Columbia River. In fact, Columbia River sturgeon production, with its valuable roe for caviar, is second only to the former Soviet Union's production. The Columbia River is also the site of an intense sport fishery, as is the San Joaquin Delta in California and the Willapa Bay in Washington. The white sturgeon is also an important fish for Native American fishermen on the Columbia and Klamath rivers.