Fight for Survival

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

Imagine yourself fishing for catfish on the Missouri or Mississippi river. Feeling a sharp tug on the end of your line, you set the hook and start battling what you think is a big catfish.

After several minutes, you pull a fish up from the murky depths and discover it looks like a creature from a Hollywood monster movie. It has a shark-like body, a long, bony snout and is armored with rows of sharp, bony plates. You've caught a sturgeon.

Sturgeon are an ancient family of fish. They evolved during the time of the dinosaurs. Missouri has three species of sturgeon: pallid sturgeon, lake sturgeon and shovelnose sturgeon. Pallid sturgeon and lake sturgeon are endangered species. Shovelnose sturgeon, the most common of the three, has recently become a species of concern. Habitat loss and past, unregulated commercial fishing are the primary reasons for their decline.

About Sturgeon

Sturgeon are found in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. These bottom-dwelling fish prefer strong current and live in areas having a hard bottom. At certain times of the year, they can be found along sand and gravel bars or in deep, scoured areas of the river. Sturgeon have long, flat snouts, large pectoral fins and long, streamlined bodies that help them move about and hold position in strong current.

A sturgeon's diet consists mostly of larval aquatic insects, crayfish, snails, small clams and small fish. As lake and pallid sturgeon grow, they depend more on small fish for food. However, sturgeon sometimes scavenge dead animal matter and are often caught by catfish anglers using worms or cut bait (pieces of fish).

Lake sturgeon can live up to 150 years, grow up to 8 feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds.

Pallid sturgeon can live more than 40 years, reach 6 feet long and weigh up to 65 pounds.

Shovelnose sturgeon, the smallest of the three species, can live more than 20 years but rarely measure more than 30 inches long or weigh more than 5 pounds.

Like most other long-lived species, sturgeon take a long time to mature sexually. It takes 15-20 years (25-40 lbs.) before a lake sturgeon can spawn for the first time; 7-12 years (6-12 lbs.) for a pallid sturgeon; and 5-7 years (2-3 lbs.) for shovelnose sturgeon. Also, unlike most other fish species, sturgeon don't spawn every year. A female lake or pallid sturgeon only spawns once every

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