Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
The Perfect Pallid Storm
Midwest Region, May 7, 2007
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It is often said in fishing circles “You should have been here last week when the fish were really biting” and it may be what the team of Missouri River biologists is saying next year after the incredible success of our 2007 pallid broodstock collection efforts.

Six years into the Corps of Engineer’s pallid recovery efforts, more than 5 million dollars have been invested in renovating and expanding three hatcheries to meet pallid production needs in the Lower Missouri River.

Millions more have been invested in the biggest telemetry program ever attempted in a large river system with 13 telemetry tracking crews and 27 stationary sonic buoys in place throughout 800 miles of the Nation’s longest river for this year.

Sampling for the endangered pallid sturgeon began on the Lower Missouri River in 1999. Despite success in collecting wild pallids, crews from State and Federal Agencies have never been able to successfully catch reproductively active pallids from the Lower Missouri River to serve as the parents of hatchery reared fish.

Prior to 2004 the Lower Missouri River was stocked with progeny from the Upper Basin. Advances in sturgeon genetic information led the Recovery Team to decide that only local fish should be used for stocking the Lower Missouri (and as a last resort for the Middle Missouri).

As Lower Missouri crews were unable to capture reproductively active adults with standard monitoring gears through 2006, fish have not been stocked in recent years.

With the impetus to document pallid migrations and fill the new hatcheries, crews from five State and Federal agencies made a concerted effort this spring to collect local stocks of the endangered pallid sturgeon. We needed to step outside of our traditional sampling techniques which are used to monitor range-wide pallid populations across all habitats types.

Innovative nets and trot-line gears were developed to target the large fish we needed in their pre-spawn habitats. As if on cue, the River created perfect conditions for a migration run to occur and with crews in place, the team collected an astounding 210 pallid sturgeon in just a few months.

The newly developed trot lines were one piece of this success. They were the most successful gear used by all crews throughout the river, particularly on smaller hatchery pallids from previous stocking events going back to 2001. Many of these stocked fish have not been recaptured with standard gears and their reappearance this spring on trot lines was an encouragement to the team.

Crews from USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission collected 152 pallids from the Middle Missouri. In one phenomenal day below the Little Sioux River, USGS captured 62 pallids on trot lines with one in every 5 hooks having a pallid.

One of the biggest pallids ever seen on the Lower River was also captured there weighing over 13 pounds (compared to an average of 5 pounds). Two females and three males were implanted with transponders for telemetry tracking.

These fish will provide information about the habitats and behaviors of wild adult fish during spawning season. This will be the first time a female pallid will be tracked during the spawning migration, and represents a large success for the team. One female and eight males were transported to Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery to become the parents for the next generation of fish stocked in the Middle (above Platte River to Gavins Dam) and Lower Missouri.

A crew led by Wyatt Doyle collected the only gravid female fish with mature black eggs ever captured in the Lower River. Three reproductive males were also collected by crews from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and Columbia Fishery Resources Office.

In all, Columbia FRO’s crews led by Nick Frohnauer, Andy Starostka, Andy Plauck, Patty Herman, Jeff Finley, Nick Utrup and Colby Wrasse collected 46 pallids in their tireless efforts, throughout March and April. This was a considerable feat considering Columbia FRO only captured 15 pallids in all of 2006 and 25 in 2005.

Many others from the Missouri River team including Gary Heidrich from MDC’s Blind Pony Hatchery and David Hendrix from Neosho National Fish Hatchery along with crews from Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and USGS worked collaboratively with Columbia FRO to ensure recovery goals were met for this year.

Due to the incredible luck of this year’s optimal river conditions it may be just another fish story next year; but for now, the Missouri River Team can hold their heads high. This previously unaccomplished achievement is a great step forward in the recovery of this prehistoric creature.

Contact Info: Larry Dean, 612-713-5312, Larry_Dean@fws.gov
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