From the Missouri Conservationist Magazine
February 2019 Issue

Nature Lab

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Wildlife Restoration: Pallid Sturgeon Sampling

“It’s like fishing for dinosaurs,” Thomas Huffmon said. “They’re old!”

Huffmon, an MDC fisheries management biologist, is talking about helping Missouri River Field Station (MORFS) staff, Juju Wellemeyer and Adam McDaniel, sample pallid sturgeon. This 70 million-year-old fish can grow 6 feet long and weigh 85 pounds. It’s also federally endangered.

“We conduct year-round sampling, but springtime broodstock collection is a special part of a coordinated effort to boost pallid sturgeon numbers,” said Wellemeyer.

McDaniel agreed. “We depend on volunteers like Thomas to help us pull trotlines, check for hatchery ID tags, collect genetic material, and record data.”

Kasey Whiteman, MORFS’s supervisor, lists some of the reasons why the pallid sturgeon is endangered. “They’re missing vital habitat and open migration. They require a lot of river miles to complete their life cycle,” he said.

In addition to changes in the Missouri River’s flows, several hydroelectric dams from Montana to Nebraska thwart the fish’s life cycle. Simply put, even if the pallid sturgeon reaches breeding age in seven to 14 years, a shortened and dammed river disrupts reproduction and recruitment.

MORFS’s efforts to help restore the pallid sturgeon’s population is part of a larger, multiagency plan funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We provide information and expertise,” Whiteman said. This includes data from annual sampling efforts as well as broodstock for federal hatcheries.

Whiteman asks anglers who accidentally catch a pallid sturgeon to take a quick photo of the fish and release it unharmed immediately. Email photos to Kasey.Whiteman@mdc.mo.gov.

Pallid Sturgeon Sampling at a Glance: Monitoring/Stocking Cycle

Missouri River Field Station

  • Collects fish and genetics
  • Records data
  • Sends broodstock to hatchery

Federal Hatchery

  • Spawns broodstock and returns to river
  • Rears fingerlings 1–2 years
  • Tags fingerlings and releases in river

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This Issue's Staff:

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler