Wild Profile: Meet the white sturgeon

Two men holding a white sturgeon Image courtesy Megan McPhaden

Those who have a cottage or cabin in Western Canada surely know of the white sturgeon. But everyone, everywhere should—it’s huge! The white sturgeon is a record-setter, and claims the title of North America’s Largest Freshwater Fish (more than six metres long), and Longest-Living Fish (100 years). As with other sturgeon species, this one has whisker-like barbels, bony projections on its back, and a fin similar to a shark’s—it’s called a “heterocercal tail.”

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The white sturgeon—and others in its family—is evolutionary old; some of the earliest sturgeon fossils date back to the Late Cretaecous epoch. So, they’re dinosaur old. And strangely, sturgeon features haven’t really changed since that time. This is why white sturgeon are considered “primitive fish.” (Another species found in Western Canada, the paddlefish, also falls into this category.)

Here in Canada, you’ll only find the white sturgeon in a few B.C. rivers. Some fish—mostly older fish as opposed to juveniles—tend to spawn in deep, fast, turbulent water with rocky bottoms. But late in the fall, almost everyone heads for overwintering spots where the water is calmer, and the river bottom, softer and finer. Hey, we get that. Who wants to settle in for winter on top of rocks?

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Like other animals that can live a long time (in Canada, the snapping turtle), the white sturgeon matures slowly. Males typically don’t reproduce until they’re at least nine, and females, until the ripe old fish-age of 13. Even though white sturgeon will eat almost anything, from snails to salmon to lampreys, they have few predators. Unless you count humans: overfishing drove them to near-extinction by the 1900s.

Man catches 800 lb. sturgeon in B.C.’s Fraser River

Happily, over the last few decades, the government has worked on recovery strategies for the white sturgeon. (The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada listed the species as “Of Special Concern” in 1990 and “Endangered” by late 2003.) Consequently, the only fishing for white sturgeon in Canada is recreational catch-and-release. So no angler is allowed to take the huge, heavy dinosaur home…but they can probably get an excellent photo for Instagram.

Sturgeon fishing on B.C.’s Fraser River with River Therapy Fishing


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