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2017 Snowpack Made It A Good Year For Sturgeon In Portions Of The Snake River
Posted on Friday, December 22, 2017 (PST)

2017 turned out to be a good year for the white sturgeon in the middle Snake River, says Idaho Department of Fish and Game. In the river between Bliss Dam and CJ Strike Reservoir, sturgeon took advantage of the rare high river flows and spawned successfully in the spring.


These sturgeon might only reproduce successfully every 3-5 years, if that. In some sections, white sturgeon face an uncertain future, because the habitat and river flows they need to reproduce have significantly changed as the Snake River has been developed.


In Idaho, sturgeon are found along the Snake River from Twin Falls to Lewiston. But they only reproduce naturally in two sections: below Bliss Dam and in Hells Canyon.


Sturgeon thrive in long sections of free-flowing rivers that have a variety of habitats. To reproduce successfully, sturgeon need high spring flows to cue spawning and clean gravels to incubate the eggs. Because of these spawning requirements and changes to river habitat, successful spawning usually only happens in years with very high river flows. In most years, upstream dams capture most of the runoff, so flows in the middle Snake River don't get high enough for sturgeon to successfully spawn.


The big 2017 snowpack brought enough water to fill the reservoirs and still deliver the big flows needed to clean the river and help young sturgeon survive.


Idaho Power Co. does most of the sturgeon research (in cooperation with IDFG) in the middle Snake River as part of their license to operate dams and generate power. This year, biologists captured tiny newly hatched larval sturgeon as they drifted down the river during the early summer. While that's a good sign, finding larval sturgeon doesn't necessarily mean successful reproduction. In many years, adult sturgeon spawn, but the tiny larval sturgeon won't survive unless river conditions are just right. Larval sturgeon are easy food for predators or may starve if they drift into poor slack-water habitat with little food.


Surveys this fall, says IDFG, showed this new age class of young sturgeon was surviving well and growing fast. By November, these young sturgeon were already 12 inches. Once a sturgeon makes it to this stage, their survival to adulthood is high.


After monitoring sturgeon in the middle Snake River for many years, biologists have a good sense for what sturgeon need for spawning -- river flows of at least 15,000 cubic feet per second (below Bliss Dam) combined with the right water temperatures in May and June.


For more about sturgeon in Idaho see

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