Ancestors of the endangered Pallid Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus) coexisted with dinosaurs millions of years ago. Fossil sturgeon specimens from North America are believed to be nearly 80 million years old. Despite this ancient lineage, biologists are just now unlocking some of the mysteries of this ancient species on the Lower Mississippi River.
Through increased monitoring over the last 10 years, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have confirmed the existence of the species throughout the Lower Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers. Hundreds of specimens have been tagged and released, whereas only a handful had been collected previously. And there is evidence that the species is reproducing in the lower river.
According to a revised recovery plan, the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee is doing its part to help the species. Along with the Corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the LMRCC has completed nine habitat restoration projects, restoring flow to nearly 40 miles of side channels. These side channels are believed to be important spawning and rearing habitats for Pallid Sturgeon.
More research into the fish’s habits and needs is continuing, according to the Lower Mississippi River Strategic Habitat Conservation Plan, released last August by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The plan reviews the status of the Pallid Sturgeon and two other endangered species on the lower river, the Interior Least Tern and the Fat Pocketbook mussel, and it details conservation actions being taken to help them.
Species: Pallid Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus).
Status: Endangered throughout its range in the Mississippi and Missouri river basins (listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1990).
Size: Adults can weigh up to 80 pounds or more, but specimens on the lower river typically weigh much less. Fish collected on the lower have measured between 15 and more than 40 inches long.
Diet: Fish and aquatic insects.
Habitat: In the lower river, often collected near the tips of rock dikes, sloping banks, sandbars, and channel border areas.