Pallid Sturgeon Species of Concern
The last remaining wild pallid sturgeon in Montana—about 125 fish are believed to range from 50 to 100 years of age. Today the pallid sturgeon is a Montana Species of Concern federally listed as an Endangered Species in 1990.
Biologists say no wild juvenile fish have joined the existing population in the past 30 to 50 years largely due to changes on the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers that have altered pallid sturgeon habitat and obstructed their reproductive processes.
The inability to reproduce themselves in the wild put this species’ future in the hands of state and federal experts 20 years ago. The interagency pallid sturgeon recovery team’s first challenge was to propagate and raise pallid sturgeon in hatcheries in order to preserve its genetics and restore an age-diverse population.
Early but unsuccessful streamside spawning attempts in the mid-1990s gradually evolved into carefully controlled hatchery-run processes. Today, sophisticated tools and techniques bring the latest in genetics, reproductive science and population modeling to bear.
“The successful propagation and stocking of pallid sturgeon is a huge step toward preventing its extinction,” said Travis Horton, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Park’s native fish species coordinator.
“More than one million pallid sturgeon fry, fingerling and yearling pallids have been stocked in the Missouri and lower Yellowstone in the past 12 years,” said Bill Gardner, FWP fisheries biologist in Lewistown responsible for monitoring pallid sturgeon on the upper Missouri River.
Gardner said this is a critical time in the species’ recovery. While the wild pallid population is dwindling to a few individuals, hatchery-raised pallid sturgeon stocked in the rivers should be ready to reproduce soon. At issue is whether any pallid sturgeon can successfully reproduce in the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers as they exist today.
The pallid sturgeon recovery team is also working to identify the most serious habitat issues obstructing reproduction so modifications can be made to encourage natural reproduction.
“One of our next recovery steps is a proposed modification to Intake Dam on the Yellowstone River that, when completed, will allow pallid sturgeon to pass. Work may begin by late summer,” Horton said. “Pallid sturgeon passage at Intake Dam will create a 300-mile stretch of river to accommodate pallid sturgeon larval drift.”
The goal is a genetically and age-diverse population that will hopefully be able to become self-sustaining within an improved habitat.
Anglers must look closely to distinguish between pallid and shovelnose sturgeon. As a result of the listing and similarity with shovelnose sturgeon, Montana fishing regulations require that any sturgeon over 16 pounds (regardless of species) and all pallid sturgeon must be released. This regulation is intended protect the Pallid Sturgeon, which may grow to 60 pounds or more.
You can help us preserve this historically important species by learning to recognize the difference between pallid and shovelnose sturgeon. If you do catch a pallid sturgeon, please notify your nearest regional Fish, Wildlife & Parks office.