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Studying Sturgeon | Northwest Power and Conservation Council Header Menu Contact Search About Integrating energy and the environment in the Columbia River Basin About the Council Mission and Strategy Members and Staff Bylaws Policies Careers / RFPs News See what the Council is up to. Read the latest news Read All News Press Resources Newsletters International Columbia River Explore News by Topic Fish and Wildlife Planning Salmon and Steelhead Wildlife Energy Planning Energy Efficiency Demand Response Fish and Wildlife The Council works to protect and enhance fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin. Its Fish & Wildlife Program guides project funding by the Bonneville Power Administration. 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Comm. Webinar - Draft Residential DR Product Assumptions 1:30 pm—4:30 pm Columbia Basin Habitat RM&E Strategy Workshop #1 5:00 pm—6:30 pm Public Hearing on Proposed Amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Program 5:00 pm—6:30 pm Public Hearing on Proposed Amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Program Oct 2019Tue08 1:00 pm—4:00 pm Large-group Technical Consultation on the Fish and Wildlife Program Oct 2019TueWed15 - 16 Council Meeting Oct 2019Tue15 5:00 pm—6:30 pm Public Hearing on Proposed Amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Program Oct 2019Tue22 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: October 22, 2019 Oct 2019Wed23 9:00 am—12:00 pm Columbia Basin Habitat RM&E Strategy Workshop-Boise Oct 2019Thu24 9:30 am—3:30 pm Conservation Resources Advisory Committee Oct 2019Mon28 9:00 am—12:00 pm Columbia Basin Habitat RM&E Strategy Workshop - The Dalles 1:00 pm—3:00 pm Informal Hatchery Workgroup Oct 2019Tue29 9:30 am—3:00 pm Generating Resources Advisory Committee Oct 2019Wed30 9:30 am—3:45 pm Demand Response Advisory Committee Nov 2019Wed06 9:30 am—2:30 pm System Analysis Advisory Committee Nov 2019TueWed12 - 13 Council Meeting Nov 2019Wed13 1:00 pm—4:00 pm Columbia Basin Habitat RM&E Strategy Workshop - Portland Nov 2019Thu14 9:00 am—11:00 am Proposal Form Webinar - Resident Fish and Sturgeon Review Nov 2019Mon18 12:30 pm—3:30 pm Columbia Basin Habitat RM&E Strategy Workshop - Wenatchee Nov 2019Tue19 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: November 19, 2019 Dec 2019Wed04 9:00 am—2:30 pm Conservation Resources Advisory Committee Dec 2019Thu05 9:00 am—11:00 am Proposal Form Webinar - Resident Fish and Sturgeon Review Dec 2019Fri06 9:30 am—3:00 pm Generating Resources Advisory Committee Dec 2019Tue10 Council Meeting via Webinar Dec 2019Thu12 9:30 am—3:30 pm Demand Response Advisory Committee Dec 2019Mon16 5:30 pm—7:30 pm Town Hall Meeting on Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty Dec 2019Tue17 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: December 17, 2019 Dec 2019Wed18 9:00 am—12:00 pm Natural Gas Advisory Comm. Webinar Dec 2019Thu19 1:30 pm—4:30 pm System Analysis Advisory Comm. WEBINAR Jan 2020Tue07 9:30 am—12:00 pm Generating Resource Advisory Committee Jan 2020Wed08 10:00 am—5:00 pm Program Goals and Objectives Workshop Jan 2020Thu09 8:30 am—4:00 pm Program Goals and Objectives Workgroup Jan 2020Tue14 Council Meeting Jan 2020Wed22 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: January 22, 2020 Jan 2020Thu23 1:00 pm—4:00 pm System Analysis Advisory Comm. Jan 2020Wed29 9:30 am—3:30 pm Conservation Resources Advisory Committee Jan 2020Thu30 1:30 pm—4:30 pm Demand Forecast Advisory Committee Webinar Feb 2020Mon10 9:30 am—4:00 pm 1st Salmon and Steelhead Strategy Performance Indicator Workshop Feb 2020TueWed11 - 12 Council Meeting Feb 2020Wed12 1:00 pm—4:30 pm Sturgeon Strategy Performance Indicator Workshop Feb 2020Wed19 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: February 19, 2020 Feb 2020Thu20 9:30 am—3:30 pm Demand Response Advisory Committee Feb 2020Thu27 9:30 pm—12:00 pm Generating Resources Advisory Committee Mar 2020Tue10 9:30 am—3:00 pm SIF: 2021 Power Plan Scenario Review Mar 2020Wed11 10:00 am—3:00 pm Wildlife Goals and Objectives continued and Wildlife Strategy Performance Indicators Mar 2020Fri13 9:00 am—3:00 pm RTF Policy Advisory Committee Meeting Mar 2020Mon16 8:30 am—4:30 pm 2nd Salmon and Steelhead Strategy Performance Indicator Workshop and Resident Fish Strategy Performance Indicator Workshop Mar 2020TueWed17 - 18 Council Meeting Mar 2020Wed18 1:00 pm—4:00 pm A Lamprey Strategy Performance Indicator Workshop Mar 2020Tue24 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: March 24, 2019 Mar 2020Tue31 9:30 am—3:30 pm Conservation Resources Advisory Committee Apr 2020Mon13 9:00 am—4:30 pm 3rd Salmon and Steelhead Strategy Performance Indicator Workshop Apr 2020TueWed14 - 15 Council Meeting Apr 2020Tue21 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: April 21, 2020 Apr 2020Wed22 9:30 am—3:30 pm Demand Response Advisory Committee May 2020TueWed12 - 13 Council Meeting May 2020Tue19 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: May 19, 2020 Jun 2020Fri05 9:00 am—3:00 pm RTF Policy Advisory Committee Meeting Jun 2020TueWed16 - 17 Council Meeting Jun 2020Tue23 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: June 23, 2020 Jul 2020TueWed14 - 15 Council Meeting Jul 2020Tue21 9:00 am—4:00 pm RTF Meeting: July 21, 2020 View Council Meetings View all Meetings Reports and Documents Browse reports and documents relevant to the Council's work on fish and wildlife and energy planning, as well as administrative reports. Browse reports Reports by Topic Power Plan Fish and Wildlife Program Subbasin Plans Financial Reports Independent Scientific Advisory Board Independent Scientific Review Panel Independent Economic Analysis Board Columbia River History Project CloseStudying Sturgeon White Sturgeon are hard to understand but researchers are steadily learning more, from the lower Columbia River to southern Idaho to north of the Canadian border. December 21, 2017 John Harrison Share

In recent years, fish biologists have gained a better understanding of white sturgeon, the giant, long-lived, bottom-dwelling mystery fish of the Columbia River, but much work remains, experts reported at a sturgeon symposium in Coeur d’Alene in November.

Gather 65 sturgeon experts in a room and pretty soon the talk turns to complex topics such as genetics, reproductive success and failure, carrying capacity (how many fish can exist in the same area), potential effects of climate change, and the benefits and pitfalls of using hatcheries to boost wild sturgeon populations. But a common thread running through the two-day symposium convened by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, tribes, and state fish and wildlife agencies was that compared to what is known about Columbia River Basin salmon, what is known about sturgeon is far less and varies by population.

For example, White Sturgeon in the Kootenai River, an ESA-listed endangered species, have been studied extensively for more than 25 years, boosted by a hatchery program that uses wild broodstock, and released as juveniles into restored habitat in the river. Conversely, almost nothing is known about sturgeon in the reservoirs behind three of the four federal dams on the lower Snake River other than that the fish are present and that their numbers appear to be declining.

Here is a region-by-region look at what is known about the largest and longest-lived fish species in the Columbia River Basin:

Upper Columbia, between Grand Coulee and Revelstoke dams :  A hatchery program in British Columbia and Washington has been so successful that a fishery downstream in Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam, aims to reduce the number of fish from a particular, and very successful, brood year so as not to dilute the gene pool if those fish spawn with wild sturgeon. Meanwhile, however, it appears there is a persistent “recruitment failure” in this area – wild fish are not producing many juveniles. It’s a problem that’s been evident for some time and that led to the creation of the Upper Columbia White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative in 2002 and subsequently the hatchery program, which began in British Columbia in 2001 and in Washington in 2004.

A young sturgeon from Lake Roosevelt. Photo: Spokane Tribe of Indians.

Lower Columbia River, McNary Dam to the ocean : Sturgeon populations, which have not been consistently bolstered with hatchery fish, increase in numbers with every reservoir closer to the estuary – more fish in The Dalles pool than in the John Day Pool, and more fish in the Bonneville pool than in The Dalles pool. But the populations are not numerous enough to allow harvest. The healthiest of these populations is the one between Bonneville Dam and the ocean. Unhindered by dams, these sturgeon can access food in the estuary and may even take a spin in the ocean. On occasion, Columbia River sturgeon are caught (and released) in the Fraser and in Puget Sound.

Middle Columbia, McNary to Chief Joseph dams : In the middle Columbia, a hatchery program with partners including the three mid-Columbia public utility districts (which operate five dams), the Yakama Nation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and others, is having success releasing juvenile sturgeon into the river, but they don’t appear to survive in the anticipated numbers – another mystery. Releasing older, and therefore larger, hatchery fish may help improve survival.

Kootenai River, Kootenay Lake to Libby Dam : Ever since the construction of Libby Dam blocked the river and changed the flow pattern, beginning in 1972, spawning has declined because, it is believed, the high spring runoff flows were important to spawning and they have only occurred infrequently since, either naturally or as the result of prescribed dam operations from a recovery plan for the listed species. Spawning in the wild continues to be low. All hatchery fish are tagged so they can be monitored – there are 85 acoustic receivers – as they move through the river and the lake.

Snake River above Brownlee Dam : Idaho Power Company is using sturgeon raised at a state fish hatchery in Hagerman to boost self-sustaining wild populations in two areas upstream of Brownlee and CJ Strike dams. Assessing the size of the population is difficult, but the company is experimenting with side-scanning radar and acoustic tags in juvenile fish. As in the Kootenai River, wild-fish spawning is influenced by river flows – when the flow is over 25,000 cubic feet per second in the spring, the fish appear to spawn. Less than that is a problem, and if flows drop below 12,000 no spawning has been observed. The program is authorized in the company’s federal licenses for dams it operates on the Snake. Mercury concentrations, particularly in older sturgeon in Hells Canyon, is a concern -- well over the limit for safe consumption by humans. Mercury is an endocrine disruptor that can reduce estradiol, a hormone important for reproduction.

Meanwhile, very little is known about sturgeon populations in the lower Snake River, where there are four federal dams. Only a few population assessments have been done over time. The change in abundance in the reservoirs behind the first three dams – Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, and Little Goose, is either unknown or has declined substantially in comparison to surveys in the 1990s, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Key issues identified by the scientists included:

Genetic diversity is the key to a successful hatchery program to boost spawning among wild fish, using as many parents as possible and not letting one family dominate.Collecting larvae for hatchery production is more productive and less invasive than collecting adult fish for hatchery broodstock.Without harvest – most stocks cannot be harvested – it’s difficult to know how the fish are doing. Stock assessments by tribes and agencies, then, are very important.Mercury levels may affect reproduction in sturgeon, and this needs to be better understood.Topics:  Fish and wildlife Tags:  Sturgeon Related News
Jan 23, 2020

Council Appoints Patty O’Toole to Fish and Wildlife Director

The Council has appointed Patty O’Toole to the position of Fish and Wildlife Division Director. She had been the division’s acting director since August 15, 2019.

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Jan 13, 2020

Ceremony Honors Groundbreaking For Umatilla Tribes' Long Awaited Walla Walla Salmon Hatchery

Planning that began in the late 1980s finally is over and construction can begin on a spring Chinook hatchery on the South Fork Walla Walla River that will be operated by the Umatilla Tribe.

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Dec 17, 2019

Introducing the Northern Pike Web Tool

Learn more about the problem of invasive Northern Pike and how you can help prevent the spread of this species in the basin on the Council's new web tool.

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Nov 15, 2019

Fish and Wildlife Program Cost Savings Help Pay For Fish Screen Repairs

Submerged for nearly 30 years, an irrigation canal's fish screens needed major repairs. Cost savings from projects in the Council's program paid for the work.

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