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Idaho Fish and Game

Conserving Snake River sturgeon: Introduction (part 1 of 7)


Snake river white sturgeon historic 1

Photo: Historical photo of Snake River White Sturgeon harvested, circa 1900.

Sturgeon are famous around the world and for good reason. Besides providing  caviar, they are also the largest fish in freshwater. There are 8 species living in North America, but only White Sturgeon are found in Idaho. White Sturgeon can reach up to 15-feet long and over 1,100 lbs. Other species like the giant Beluga Sturgeon can grow to double that! 

White Sturgeon can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest from Alaska to California. In Idaho, they are present throughout the Snake River up to Shoshone Falls, and in the lower Salmon River. The Kootenai River also has a distinct White Sturgeon population that is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Despite their wide distribution in Idaho, sturgeon face significant challenges from a history of overharvest and extensive changes to their river habitats. All sturgeon fishing in Idaho is restricted to catch-and-release fishing, and fishing is only allowed on the Snake and lower Salmon rivers. 



Photo: A 1,500lb Snake River White Sturgeon caught near Ontario, OR. Circa 1900.

In the late 1880’s, demand for caviar expanded and sturgeon were heavily harvested throughout the Columbia River basin, including Idaho. As human development increased in Idaho in the early 1900’s, sturgeon populations declined. Dams built along the Snake River to provide electricity, flood control and irrigation have changed flow patterns and impacted habitat. Dams along the Snake River have divided one, big, interconnected sturgeon population into about 9 individual smaller populations. Only 2 of those populations now have the required flows and habitat needed to reproduce on their own (below Hells Canyon Dam and from Bliss Dam to CJ Strike).

Biologists from Idaho Fish and Game and Idaho Power Company are working closely to help conserve Snake River White Sturgeon. The main goal of sturgeon conservation efforts is to ensure sturgeon populations are healthy and can continue to support recreational sport fishing.  Idaho Power Company owns many of the dams that affect sturgeon throughout the middle Snake River. Federal rules regarding hydroelectric dams require that Idaho Power Company mitigate for the impact of these dams on sturgeon. Together with other partners, IDFG and Idaho Power are studying and managing sturgeon in the middle Snake River to make sure they are here into future.

A juvenile sturgeon collected from the middle Snake River

Photo: Juvenile White Sturgeon like this one can be rare in several parts of the Snake River. IDFG and its partners are working to improve numbers of young sturgeon to help boost some reaches of the middle Snake River.

Idaho Fish and Game, College of Southern Idaho, and Idaho Power Company are working on an innovative project to improve sturgeon populations in the middle Snake River. Stocking hatchery-reared sturgeon from wild parents is one small part in a much bigger plan to help conserve sturgeon populations and maintain fishing opportunities for these giants of the river. Over the next six weeks, we’ll present a series of six more blog posts to take you behind-the-scenes to spawn these huge fish as part of this amazing program!

Go to part 2