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White Sturgeon - Acipenser transmontanus

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Species of Concern

Global Rank: G4
State Rank: S1

Agency Status
USFWS: LE
USFS: ENDANGERED
BLM: SPECIAL STATUS
FWP Conservation Tier: 1


 

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General Description
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Diagnostic Characteristics
Sturgeons have cartilaginous skeletons with a persistent notochord, a protractile tube-like mouth, and sensory barbels on the underside of the snout. White Sturgeon are large fishes with 11 to 14 dorsal, 36 to 48 lateral, and 9 to 12 ventral scutes (bony plates). They are smaller than ocean-going populations, with no reports larger than 200 pounds from the Kootenai River, and are gray in color.

Species Range
Montana Range

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Western Hemisphere Range

 


Migration
The White Sturgeon population in Montana is part of a landlocked population occurring only in Kootenai River from Kootenai Falls in Montana downstream to Bonnington Falls in British Columbia (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993).

Habitat
Large cold rivers.

Food Habits
The White Sturgeon is a bottom feeder and will eat almost any available organism. They feed mostly on fish, but also eat crustaceans, mollusks, worms, and considerable plant material (Brown 1971, Weisel 1957).

Ecology
Historically, White Sturgeon responded to spring runoff and warming water temperatures by moving upstream to the spawning areas and preparing physiologically for spawning. Decline in Montana seems to be linked to changes in the Kootenai's flow pattern resulting from completion of Libby dam (Holton 1980, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993).

Reproductive Characteristics
There has been almost no reproduction since 1974 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993). The range in Montana may be part of the breeding area for the population, believed to extend from Shorty's Island, Idaho upstream to Kootenai Falls, Montana (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993).

The size and age of first sexual maturity is variable within the species. In the Kootenai watershed, females have been observed to mature as early as age 22 years and males at age 16 years (Paragamian et al. 1997). Females are reported to spawn only once every two to eleven years (Conte et al. 1988, Hanson et al. 1992). Empirical evidence suggests that female White Sturgeon from the Kootenai River exhibited spawning periodicities of over 5 years (Paragamian et al. 1997, Montana AFS Species Status Account).

Throughout their range, White Sturgeon generally broadcast their eggs over clean cobble at depths greater than 6 meters (20 feet) at column velocities less than 0.24 meters per second (0.77 feet per second). Water temperatures associated with White Sturgeon spawning typically ranged from 14 to 20 degrees C. (57 to 68 F.). Empirical embryonic developmental stage and water temperature data were used (Wang et al. 1985) to back-calculate the timing of White Sturgeon spawning events in the Kootenai River, which coincided with lower water temperatures (8.6 to 12.9 C.). Spawning has occurred at relatively low discharges (13 to 20 kcfs) and over finer substrate than is considered optimal for egg to fry survival. It remains uncertain whether any juveniles survive when eggs are dispersed over fine substrates. Furthermore, several potentially important early life (post-fertilization) mortality factors, and possible intermittent female stock limitations, have been suggested as mechanisms to explain prolonged (more than 25 years) White Sturgeon recruitment failure in the Kootenai River (Anders and Richards 1996, Anders et al. 2002) (Montana AFS Species Status Account).

Management
The Kootenai River population of White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1994), due to a lack of juvenile recruitment to the population since the mid-1960s. Almost no recruitment has occurred since Libby Dam began regulating the Kootenai River in 1972 (Duke et al. 1999, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999). In the final rule, the Service stated "there is no recent evidence of successful spawning and survival past the egg stage" and "regulations and experimental flow programs have not been effective in arresting the decline of the species". A small number of recruits from a cohort spawned in 1974 indicated fairly successful natural reproduction, associated with high, protracted springtime river flows. Between 1992 and 2000, the wild population was augmented with 4,879 juvenile White Sturgeon (age 1 and 2) from the Kootenai Tribal Conservation Aquaculture Facility located in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, to address concerns of increasing demographic and genetic risk to a non-recruiting population (Ireland et al. 2002, Montana AFS Species Status Account).

Recovery of the White Sturgeon population in the Kootenai River is contingent upon re-establishing natural recruitment, minimizing additional loss of genetic variability, and successfully mitigating biological and habitat alterations that continue to harm the population. The White Sturgeon Recovery Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999) recommends simultaneous implementation of three high priority recovery approaches: 1) augment spring flows in the Kootenai River to enhance natural production; 2) implement a conservation aquaculture program to prevent extinction and preserve genetic variability; and 3) re-establish suitable habitat conditions to increase White Sturgeon survival past
the embryonic and larval stages (Montana AFS Species Status Account).

The Kootenai River White Sturgeon Study and Conservation Aquaculture Project was initiated to preserve the genetic variability of the population, begin rebuilding natural age class structure, and prevent extinction while measures are implemented to restore natural recruitment (Anders and Westerhof 1996, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999, Ireland 2000, Ireland et al. 2002). A breeding plan has been implemented to guide management in the systematic collection and spawning of wild adults before they are lost from the breeding population (Kincaid 1993). The implementation of the breeding plan includes measures to minimize potential detrimental effects of conventional stocking programs (Montana AFS Species Status Account).

References
  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
    • Anders, P. and D. Richards. 1996. Implications of ecosystem collapse on white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) in the Kootenai River, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia. pp. 27-40. In: Proceedings of the International Congress on the Biology of Fishes, San Francisco State University, CA. July 14-18, 1996.
    • Anders, P. J. and R. E. Westerhof. 1996. Conservation aquaculture of endangered white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) in the Kootenai River, Idaho. pp. 51-62. In: Proceedings from the International Congress on the Biology of Fishes: Culture and Management of Sturgeon and Paddlefish Symposium Proceedings. San Francisco State University, CA. July 14–18, 1996.
    • Anders, P. J., D. L. Richards, and M. S. Powell. 2002. The first endangered white sturgeon population: repercussions in an altered large river-floodplain ecosystem. American Fisheries Society Symposium 28:67-82.
    • Brown, C. J. D. 1971. Fishes of Montana. Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. 207 p.
    • Conte, F. C, S. I. Doroshov, P. B. Lutes, E. M. Strange. 1988. Hatchery manual for the white sturgeon Acipenser transmontanus Richardson, with application to other North American Acipenseridae. Cooperative Extension, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Publication 3322.
    • Duke, S., P. Anders, G. Ennis, R. Hallock, J. Hammond, S. Ireland, J. Laufle, et al. 1999. Recovery plan for Kootenai River white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus). Journal of Applied Ichthyology. 15 (4-5): 157-163.
    • Hanson, D. L., T. G. Cochnauer, J. D. DeVore, H. E. Forner, T. T. Kisanuki, D. W. Kohlhorst, P. Lumley, G. McCabe, A. A. Nigro, S. Parker, D. Swartz and A. Van Vooren. 1992. White sturgeon management framework plan. Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. 220 p.
    • Holton, G. D. 1980. The riddle of existence: fishes of special concern. Montana Outdoors 11(1):2-6.
    • Ireland, S. C. 2000. Kootenai River white sturgeon studies and conservation aquaculture. Annual Progress Report. Prepared for U.S. Department of Energy and Bonneville Power Administration. Contract Number 88 BI 93743, Project No. 88-64. Portland, OR.
    • Ireland, S. C., P. J. Anders, and J. T. Siple. 2002. Conservation aquaculture: an adaptive approach to prevent extinction of an endangered white sturgeon population. American Fisheries Society Symposium 28:211-222.
    • Kincaid, H. L. 1993. Breeding plan to preserve the genetic variability of the Kootenai River white sturgeon. Bonneville Power Administration, Portland, OR. 22 p.
    • Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society species status accounts.
    • Paragamian, V.L., G. Kruse,. and V. Wakkinen. 1997. Kootenai River white sturgeon investigations. Annual Progress Report FY 1997. Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Bonneville Power Administration. Contract No. DE-AI79-88BP93497; Project No. 88-65. Portland, Oregon. 67 p.
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) 1999. White sturgeon; Kootenai River population recovery plan. Region 1, USFWS, Portland, Oregon.
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1994. Determination of endangered status for the Kootenai River population of the white sturgeon. Federal Register 59(171):45989-6002.
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants: proposed endangered status for the Kootenai River population of the white sturgeon. Federal Register 58(128):36379-36387.
    • Wang, Y. L., F. P. Binkowski, and S. I. Doroshov. 1985. Effect of temperature on early development of white and lake sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus and A. fulvescens. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 14 (1): 43-50.
    • Weisel, G. F. 1957. Fish guide for intermountain Montana. Montana State University Press. Missoula, MT. 88 p.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
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    • Binkowski, F. P., and S. I. Doroshov (editors). 1985. North American Sturgeons: Biology and Aquaculture Potential. Dr. W. Junk Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands. 163 pp.
    • Duke, S. D., and R. Hallock. 2001. Recovery progress report for the endangered Kootenai River white sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus. Endangered Species UPDATE 18(3):75-78.
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Citation for data on this website:
White Sturgeon — Acipenser transmontanus.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on October 26, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=AFCAA01050
 
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