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Studying Idaho’s white sturgeon fishery in the upper Snake River

This past summer, fisheries biologists with the Magic Valley Region spent weeks on the Snake River between Milner Dam and Idaho Falls surveying the white sturgeon population. The work, which will continue for a few more years, will help Fish and Game better understand  how hatchery white sturgeon in the upper Snake River grow, survive, move, and just how many are out there. White sturgeon are not native to the Snake River above Shoshone Falls. However, since 1990, Fish and Game occasionally stocked white sturgeon upstream of Shoshone Falls to provide additional angling opportunity for sturgeon outside of their native range.

Fish and Game biologist with a white sturgeon caught in the Snake River

Sturgeon angling across the state has continued to grow in popularity over the years throughout their native range, which includes the Snake, Kootenai and Salmon rivers.

“There’s a fun, rowdy, and hard fishing group of local anglers and guides, who aren’t bashful about sharing exactly how much they love sturgeon and the fishing opportunity they provide,” says Regional Fisheries Biologist, Joe Thiessen. “These same people were very instrumental in helping us find, and in many cases, collecting sturgeon for this study.”

Sturgeon anglers helped provide local fishing knowledge to the study

Findings from the 2021 survey were interesting to say the least. Overall, biologists collected 116 sturgeon from Milner Dam upstream to Idaho Falls.  Fish ranged in size from two feet up to eight feet long. Angling catch rates suggest that sturgeon numbers are the highest immediately downstream of a dam, such as American Falls or Gem Lake. Biologists also learned that most of the sturgeon moved less than five miles from where they were released; however, one fish migrated downstream nearly 83 miles and successfully passed four dams during the migration.

Biological data is collected from each sturgeon caught during the study

Fish and Game is collaborating with the University of Idaho over the next two years to learn more about white sturgeon upstream of Shoshone Falls, and the sport fishery they provide. The goal of the research project is to determine population numbers for each section of river, survival of hatchery-stocked sturgeon,  growth rates, and whether sturgeon are reproducing naturally. Ultimately, this work will help develop management strategies to sustain and improve opportunity to catch these amazing fish.

To track each fish over time, a PIT tag is inserted into all sturgeon caught during the study

As a reminder, Fish and Game has specific gear requirements for sturgeon fishing, found on Page 54 of the 2019-2021 fishing regulation booklet.

For more information about the sturgeon hatchery program in the Magic Valley Region and additional efforts to conserve these fish, check out the seven part series about  Conserving Snake River sturgeon: Introduction (part 1 of 7) | Idaho Fish and Game.