“Pallid Sturgeon” a Fish for All Seasons!
BY CAL YONCE AND JAVAR HENRY, COLUMBIA FWCO
Pallid sturgeon was listed under the Endangered Species Act as “Endangered” on September 6th, 1990. The Pallid Sturgeon Recovery Plan, implemented in Missouri in 1992, recommended hatchery propagation to augment the waning population. Stocking fish is a short-term recovery objective to sustain the species until habitat modifications could occur and allow for natural spawning and recruitment. The first hatchery in Missouri to implement this plan was the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Blind Pony State Fish Hatchery. The hatchery is located in Sweet Springs, Missouri not far from the “Big Muddy” Missouri River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Neosho National Fish Hatchery (NFH) started contributing to the Pallid Sturgeon Recovery Program shortly after MDC. The two hatcheries rear pallid sturgeon collaboratively from wild brood fish collected from the Missouri River to augment the wild population. At Neosho, pallid sturgeon are ideally reared for two years, to a length of nine inches if space is available. These hearty two-year old fish are then tagged with PIT tags, a glass ampule with a unique number programmed into the tag, and then released into the lower Missouri River at multiple locations.
Once again in September of 2014 the Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) teamed up with these hatcheries, to mark and release this year’s sturgeon, however, this time there was a problem. Between the two hatcheries there is just not enough space to rear the number of fish on hand for 12-24 months. So a decision was made to stock out most of the four to five month old pallids, keeping the remaining 3,500 for the usual rearing period.
Credit: Jeremiah Smith, USFWS
These fish were too small to PIT tag; therefore the fish were double marked by removing a scute from their side and injected with a colored elastomer mark on their snout. The scutes will not grow back and can serve as a visual mark to indicate from which hatchery and year class they were stocked. The different colored elastomer marks indicate where on the river the fish would be released. A total of 19,582 juvenile pallid sturgeon were released this year at five different locations throughout the Missouri River.
The long term partnership between the State and Federal hatcheries and the staff of Columbia FWCO remains strong. We enjoy the opportunity to come together and work toward recovering the species. Being in the FWCO, we have the unique opportunity to collect the parents of these fish, tag the progeny and collect these fish after they are released and assess how they are coping with life in the wild. Several weeks after the releasing this batch of fish, we captured some of the pallids from Neosho and Blind Pony Hatcheries near Klondike and Herman during our routine pallid sturgeon population monitoring efforts. It was exciting to see the fish we helped tag, inhabiting areas with the wild born sturgeon.