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Pallid Sturgeon: The Vagabonds of the Fish World
Midwest Region, February 2, 2012
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service CFWCO partners with U.S.G.S. Columbia Environmental Research Center, Missouri Department of Conservation and Blind Pony State Fish Hatchery (MO) to stock pallid sturgeon into the lower Missouri River.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service CFWCO partners with U.S.G.S. Columbia Environmental Research Center, Missouri Department of Conservation and Blind Pony State Fish Hatchery (MO) to stock pallid sturgeon into the lower Missouri River. - Photo Credit: Wyatt Doyle
A hatchery-reared pallid sturgeon being tagged with visible implant elastomer (a colored polymer) before stocking.  Elastomer tags are used in conjuction with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags to identify hatchery-reared sturgeon in the wild.
A hatchery-reared pallid sturgeon being tagged with visible implant elastomer (a colored polymer) before stocking. Elastomer tags are used in conjuction with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags to identify hatchery-reared sturgeon in the wild. - Photo Credit: Hilary Meyer

Over 121,294 pallid sturgeon have been stocked in the middle and lower Missouri River (Gavins Point Dam, SD to St. Louis, MO) since 1994 as part of the on-going pallid sturgeon recovery efforts in the Missouri River. As many as 35,372 sturgeon have been stocked in one year alone (2004). Very few larval pallid sturgeon have been captured in the Missouri River over the last 30 years, which indicates that there is little or no natural reproduction occurring. Stocking of pallid sturgeon is an important tool for the recovery of the species because it helps prevent the immediate threat of extinction. Wild adult pallid sturgeon are collected from the Missouri River in fall and spring, and then transported to a nearby hatchery. The fish that are sexually mature are spawned and released back into the river, and the fertilized eggs are hatched out and reared at the hatchery until they are about 1 year old. Researchers have found that 1 year old pallid sturgeon stocked into the Missouri River have about a 70% probability of survival, much better than fish less than 1 year old, which have less than a 10% probability of survival. With thousands of fish being stocked into the Missouri River annually, the biologists at the Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (CFWCO) were curious where all of our recaptured pallid sturgeon were coming from.

 

Columbia FWCO field crews have captured roughly 560 pallid sturgeon from the Missouri River since 2003. Of those fish, 309 of them are confirmed hatchery-reared pallid sturgeon (HRPS). Using the USFWS online pallid sturgeon database, we were able to determine the year fish were spawned and where they were stocked for 226 of the recaptured hatchery fish. About 55% of all HRPS captured were originally stocked near Boonville, Missouri. Five percent of HRPS were stocked near Bellevue, Nebraska, and another 4.2% were stocked near Miami, Missouri. Field crews from the CFWCO captured fish spawned in 1992 and 2001-2009, representing almost all of the year classes stocked in the lower Missouri River. The two HRPS recaptured from the 1992 year class were 13 and 15 years old when they were recaptured in 2005 and 2007 (respectively), and if they are still out swimming around in the Missouri River, they are now 20 years old!

These two fish were originally stocked into the Platte River, Nebraska about 40 miles upstream of the confluence of the Platte and Missouri River. The fish moved a over 500 miles downstream of their original stocking location before they were recaptured. Field crews also recaptured two HRPS that were stocked near Standing Bear Bridge Nebraksa/South Dakota and one fish from Sunshine Bottoms, Nebraska. These three fish made it through Gavins Point Dam, and traveled between 652 and 617 miles downstream to Missouri. Our most traveled fish is one that was 10 years old when it was recaptured and moved a total of 731 miles downstream from its original stocking location at Mullberry Bend, South Dakota.

The CFWCO can use this information to look for different patterns of movement in the lower Missouri River. We can begin to answer questions such as, do older pallid sturgeon move more than younger fish? At what age do HRPS disperse from the stocking site? Are pallid sturgeon being entrained through dams regularly, or possibly during high flow events? All of this information will enhance our understanding of pallid sturgeon biology, which will eventually help us to move down the road to recovery.


Contact Info: Hilary Meyer, 573-234-2132 ext 172, Hilary_Meyer@fws.gov



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