The Snake River’s white sturgeon population received a boost recently with the stocking of more than 1,800, year-old white sturgeon.
Each spring, Idaho Power fisheries biologist Phil Bates and the team from College of Southern Idaho release hundreds of baby sturgeon in 15 sections throughout the Snake River. These sturgeon are stocked near Twin Falls, and from CJ Strike to Brownlee reservoirs, to help boost populations where sturgeon no longer reproduce naturally. No sturgeon are stocked in the Bliss Dam to CJ Strike section, to help keep this population as wild as possible.
In Idaho, white sturgeon they are present throughout the Snake River up to Shoshone Falls, and in the lower Salmon River. North Idaho’s 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 survival challenges from a history of overfishing, together with extensive changes to their river habitats from dams, water diversion and pollution. Today, sturgeon fishing is only allowed on the Snake and Lower Salmon rivers, and all Idaho sturgeon fishing is catch-and-release only.
Using fine mesh nets, biologists remove drifting sturgeon eggs and sturgeon larvae directly from the river in the reach between Bliss Dam and CJ Strike Reservoir, the only stretch of river above Brownlee Reservoir that still has the right conditions needed for sturgeon to successfully spawn. These fertilized eggs and larvae are then transported to CSI’s hatchery where the young fish spend the next year feeding and growing to about 12 inches in length. This process puts no adult fish at risk and the eggs collected represent a diverse group of spawning adult fish, a much better long-term conservation strategy reflecting natural spawning.
In the days leading up to release, each baby sturgeon is individually marked with a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag. These tags will identify individual sturgeon for many years to come as biologists assess Middle Snake River sturgeon health and survival.