2017 was a good year for White Sturgeon in the middle fork of the Snake River. But a changing climate may mean years like that one will be harder to find.
“They’re a pretty unique-looking fish.”
That’s Idaho Fish and Game Fish biologist Martin Koenig. He says a lot of people refer to White Sturgeon as swimming dinosaurs because of their ancient look. And those weird fish had a good year last year.
Idaho Power, which conducts research on the fish in the Snake, says all the snow that fell in 2017 led to high river flows in areas like the section between Bliss Dam and C.J. Strike Reservoir.
“The big runoff year we had in 2017 triggered a really successful spawning year for those fish living in that section of the river,” Koenig says.
The high flows are good for spawning but also carry the eggs and hatched larvae to good sections of the river where they can hide from predators. High flows also clean out the muck from gravel beds that baby fish like to live in.
The fish face many challenges, including historical overfishing, declines in water quality, lower food resources and 13 dams up to Shoshone Falls on the Snake River. Because of the dams, the fish aren’t reproducing as often as they used to historically. Now, sturgeon tend to only successfully spawn in high water years.
And Koenig says the amount of snow and rain Idaho gets is changing. That may mean fewer high water years like 2017.
“If we continue to see this trend towards decline in spring runoff, the chances of sturgeon reproducing successfully every three to five to seven years is probably going to be going down,” says Koenig.
Koenig says both Idaho Fish and Game and Idaho Power are working on conservation programs to help the long-lived fish survive and reproduce along the Snake River.
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