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Fight for Survival

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

3-5 years, and a female shovelnose sturgeon spawns once every 2-3 years. Their slow rate of maturation and infrequent spawning make sturgeon extremely susceptible to overharvest.

Sturgeon Identification

All three species of sturgeon found in Missouri look somewhat alike. It's especially difficult to tell the difference between pallid sturgeon and shovelnose sturgeon. Lake sturgeon and pallid sturgeon are endangered and protected by law. These two species must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught. Therefore, it is very important for anglers to learn how to quickly identify each species.

Lake sturgeon, often called rubbernose sturgeon, have a shorter, rounder snout than the other sturgeon, which have shovelshaped snouts. Lake sturgeon also have smooth barbels; pallid and shovelnose sturgeon have fringed or serrated barbels. These barbels, located at the front of the mouth, help the fish locate food and find their way along the bottom of the river. Young lake sturgeon are mottled light-brown, but adults are solid dark brown or slate colored.

Shovelnose or Pallid?

Biologists use four main characteristics to tell pallid sturgeon and shovelnose sturgeon apart.

  1. The shovelnose sturgeon has a shorter snout and head than the pallid sturgeon.
  2. Shovelnose barbels form a straight line across their bases. Pallid sturgeon barbels form a crescent-shaped line at their bases.
  3. Shovelnose barbels are attached equally distant between the mouth and tip of the snout. Pallid sturgeon barbels are attached closer to the mouth than to the tip of the snout.
  4. The belly of a shovelnose sturgeon is covered with thin, scale-like plates. Pallid sturgeon have skin-like, scaleless bellies.

In addition, the two inner barbels on a shovelnose sturgeon are about as thick and nearly as long as the two outer barbels. Those barbels on a pallid sturgeon are usually thinner and much shorter than the outer barbels.

Also, adult shovelnose have light brown to buff sides and back and a white belly. Young pallid sturgeon are about the same color, but as they mature, their sides and back turn grayish white.

Threats to Survival

Of the 24 species of sturgeon worldwide, 16 are classified as endangered. Four are classified as threatened, and four are classified as vulnerable. As mentioned, Missouri's lake and pallid sturgeon are endangered. Habitat loss and unregulated commercial fishing in the past are the primary reasons for their decline. However, other factors, including habitat alterations by humans to the Missouri and

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