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NW Fishletter #381, May 7, 2018

[10] Fish Managers: Some Concerns, Successes With Columbia Basin White Sturgeon

Fish managers have concerns about white sturgeon numbers, but are finding some success with monitoring and recovering the ancient species that has populated the Columbia River Basin for at least 100 million years.

White sturgeon are the second largest freshwater fish in North America--weighing up to 1,500 pounds--and the longest lived, surviving up to about 100 years old.

On April 10, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee heard from managers in five areas of the basin. Resident white sturgeon are listed as endangered in the Kootenai River basin, and are considered an emerging priority in the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program. The program calls for increasing sturgeon abundance and survival, along with research for improving the FCRPS and regular updates on progress. Ten white sturgeon projects totaling $13.79 million are now funded through the program.

In the basin, white sturgeon are most populous in the lower Columbia, below Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls, where an estimated 635,530 now live, Art Martin, Columbia River coordination section manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Committee.

He said one main concern is the continued low relative abundance of juveniles, which do not reach sexual maturity for 20 to 25 years. "We're seeing a decrease in the relative abundance of juveniles," he said. Predation by Steller sea lions are among the threats, he said.

Because sturgeon are such long-lived fish, they can handle a few years of poor recruitment, Martin said. But, he added, they cannot be managed like salmon, which have much shorter life cycles. With sturgeon, he said, "What we did decades ago affected reproduction today."

Numbers of white sturgeon are significantly lower in other parts of the basin, with population estimates in most reservoirs of the middle and upper Columbia, Snake and Kootenai rivers ranging from tens of thousands to a few thousand.

In the upper Columbia and Kootenai River, hatchery programs help supplement wild fish. -K.C. M.

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