Pallid Sturgeon

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Listen to an audio clip about the pallid sturgeon.


Pallid Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus)
Status: Endangered
Listed: September 6, 1990

For questions regarding the Pallid Sturgeon in Arkansas, please contact Lindsey Lewis at lindsey_lewis@fws.gov or 501-513-4489.

Species Facts:
These large fish are light grey with a lighter underside. Pallid sturgeons can reach lengths of up to 7 feet and weigh up to 85 pounds. They have small eyes, a large shovel-shaped head, and large scales called scutes covering the top of the body. Underneath their long snout they have a toothless mouth surrounded by four barbels, which is used to suck up aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, annelids, eggs, and sometimes other fishes. They spawn from June to August.

These fish are slow to reach sexual maturity; males first spawn between the ages of 5 and 7, and females will not spawn until they are 15-20 years old. Spawning occurs every 2-3 years. However, age at first spawn are influenced by environmental conditions; hatchery-raised females maintained at artificially warmed temperatures can reach sexual maturity in 6 years, while fish raised in cooler temperatures take longer.

Habitat Summary:
The pallid sturgeon only occurs in main channel habitats of the Mississippi River and Lower Arkansas downstream of Lock and Dam 2. This species occupies large, turbid, free-flowing riverine habitat; it occurs in strong current over firm gravel or sand. It has been found at varying depths (1 to 8 m). Pallid sturgeons are also found in areas at the ends of chutes and sandbars, most likely for feeding and resting.

Why is it Endangered:
River alteration for purposes such as navigation and flood control has led to loss of habitat and a large reduction in their numbers. Levee construction has eliminated major natural floodways and reduced the land area of the floodplain. The pattern of water releases from impoundments is also opposite to what would normally occur (reduced in spring and increased in summer versus high in spring and decreasing through the summer), which has affected reproduction and prey availability. Commercial fishing and pollution have also played a role in the decline of the pallid sturgeon.

Additionally, since spawning habitat unique to the pallid sturgeon has been altered or lost, the pallid sturgeon has been forced to spawn in close proximity to the closely related shovelnose sturgeon. Hybridization is occurring in both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and hybrids are more common in the lower portion of both rivers.

The pallid sturgeon was first artificially spawned in 1992 by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Now, over two thousand juvenile pallid sturgeon a year are stocked in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

In 2010, the shovelnose sturgeon was listed as threatened to try to protect the pallid sturgeon. Since pallid and shovelnose sturgeon are difficult to tell apart and have overlapping ranges, protecting the shovelnose in areas where the ranges overlap will potentially help protect the pallid sturgeon as well.

Listen to an audio clip about the pallid sturgeon here.

Range in Arkansas:

Arkansas Field Office
110 S. Amity Road
Suite 300
Conway, AR 72032

501/513 4470 (v)
501/513 4480 (f)

Last Updated: December 30, 2015

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