Acipenser transmontanus - Richardson, 1836
White Sturgeon
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Acipenser transmontanus Richardson, 1836 (TSN 161068)
French Common Names: esturgeon blanc
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.100679
Element Code: AFCAA01050
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Fishes - Bony Fishes - Other Bony Fishes
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Actinopterygii Acipenseriformes Acipenseridae Acipenser
Genus Size: C - Small genus (6-20 species)
Check this box to expand all report sections:
Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 20. 183 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B91ROB01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Acipenser transmontanus
Taxonomic Comments: Gene sequencing data of Birstein and DeSalle (1998) indicate that there are least three main clades within ACIPENSER: A. STURIO-A. OXYRINCHUS, A. SCHRENCKII-A. TRANSMONTANUS, and all Ponto-Caspian species plus A. DABRYSNUS and A. BREVIROSTRUM.

Krieger et al. (2000) examined phylogenetic relationships of North American sturgeons based on mtDNA sequences and found that (1) nucleotide sequences for all four examined genes for the three SCAPHIRHYNCHUS species were identical; (2) the two ACIPENSER OXYRINCHUS subspecies were very similar in sequence; (3) A. TRANSMONTANUS and A. MEDIROSTRIS were sister taxa, as were A. FULVESCENS and A. BREVIROSTRUM (in constrast to Birstein and DeSalle 1998).
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 12Nov2002
Global Status Last Changed: 09Sep1996
Rounded Global Status: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Large range along the eastern Pacific Ocean; depleted to very low population levels in the early 1900s; has since rebounded, but spawns in relatively few river systems; some populations exhibit very low natural recruitment due to anthropogenic changes in river conditions.
Nation: United States
National Status: N4 (05Dec1996)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N2 (10Feb2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alaska (S3S4), Arizona (SNA), California (S2), Idaho (S1), Montana (S1), Oregon (S4), Washington (S3B,S4N)
Canada British Columbia (S2)

Other Statuses

Implied Status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): PS
Comments on USESA: The Kootenai River population of Idaho, Montana and British Columbia is listed Endangered (06 September 1994) (See Acipenser transmontanus pop. 1).
Implied Status under the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC):PS: E,E,E,T
Comments on COSEWIC: The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1990. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in November 2003. Split into four populations in November 2012.
IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix II
American Fisheries Society Status: Endangered (01Aug2008)

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Pacific slope of North America from Aleutian Islands, Alaska, to Monterey, California (Lee et al. 1980). A land-locked population occurs in upper Columbia River system. Significant populations occur in the Sacramento, Columbia, and Fraser rivers. Introduced in lower Colorado River, Arizona (Page and Burr 1991).

Number of Occurrences: 6 - 20
Number of Occurrences Comments: Lee et al. (1980) mapped approximately 24 collection sites in 17 waterways.

Population Size: 10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Abundant within portions of the range. Commercial catch has ranged from 10,000 to 50,000 lbs/yr recently.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Populations were severely reduced by commercial over-fishing in the late 1800s-early 1900s (Parsley et al. 2002). As of the early 1990s, populations in Canada were "healthy" but under increasing pressure from fisheries (Lane 1991).

White sturgeons have been detrimentally impacted by physical and ecological barriers and population fragmentation caused by dams and their impoundments. For example, dams on the Columbia River have restricted movements of white sturgeons, and impounded fishes are effectively prevented from accessing the river's estuary and the Pacific Ocean (Rien and North 2002). Dam operations during low flow produce erratic conditions for spawning and recruitment (Parsley and Beckman 1994, Beamesderfer et al. 1995).

Dams on the Snake River have reduced free-flowing habitat by 37 percent (Cochnauer 2002). Most hydroelectric dams on the Snake River were never fitted with fish ladders adequate to allow upstream passage of white sturgeons (Cochnauer 2002). A simulation study of factors controlling recruitment in the Middle Snake River suggested that poor water quality during summer may have a strong negative effect of recruitment in the river segments between Swan Falls Dam and Hell's Canyon Dam (Jager et al. 2002). In segments with better water quality, populations in short river segments may be limited by larval export whereas populations in longer segments may be less limited by any single factor. Factors in an upstream segment may significantly influence downstream neighbors (Jager et al. 2002).

In the Kootenai River ecosystem, drastic anthropogenic changes to the river have led to natural recruitment failure for 30 years, with several exceptions. Apparently, during some years, natural recruitment failure was due to female stock limitation whereas in other years recruitment failure was due to one or more postspawning early life history mortality factors (Anders et al. 2002). Contaminants in the river have been implicated as a possible cause of poor reproductive success, but further study is needed (see Kruse and Scarnecchia 2002).

Short-term Trend Comments: In the Columbia River basin, population status and recruitment success vary widely; in general, currently relatively stable at a high population size in the lower Columbia river, stable or variable at low to moderate population sizes in middle reaches, and stable at extremely low to negligible population sizes in the upper basin (Miller et al. 2002).

Five of the nine populations located between dams on the Middle Snake River have declined from historical levels and are now at risk of extinction (Jager et al. 2002).

The Kootenai River population has been declining since the mid-1960s; significant natural recruitment occurred most recently in 1974; by the mid-1990s, poor recruitment led to a population in which 90 percent of the individuals were more than 20 years old (see Anders et al. 2002).

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Long-lived, slow growing, slow to reach maturity. spawns at intervals of 2-11 years (Columbia River basin).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Obtain better information on the current number of viable occurrences.

Protection Needs: Protect spawning streams from impassible obstructions.

Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Pacific slope of North America from Aleutian Islands, Alaska, to Monterey, California (Lee et al. 1980). A land-locked population occurs in upper Columbia River system. Significant populations occur in the Sacramento, Columbia, and Fraser rivers. Introduced in lower Colorado River, Arizona (Page and Burr 1991).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, AZexotic, CA, ID, MT, OR, WA
Canada BC

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
MT Lincoln (30053)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
17 Upper Kootenai (17010101)+, Yaak (17010103)+, Lower Kootenai (17010104)+, Lower Spokane (17010307), Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (17020001), Kettle (17020002), Colville (17020003), Sanpoil (17020004), Chief Joseph (17020005), Okanogan (17020006), Methow (17020008), Lake Chelan (17020009), Upper Columbia-Entiat (17020010), Moses Coulee (17020012), Upper Crab (17020013), Banks Lake (17020014), Lower Crab (17020015), Upper Columbia-Priest Rapids (17020016), Lower Yakima, Washington (17030003), C. J. Idaho (17050101), Middle Snake-Succor (17050103), Lower Owyhee (17050110), Middle Snake-Payette (17050115), Lower Malheur (17050117), Brownlee Reservoir (17050201), Burnt (17050202), Powder (17050203), Hells Canyon (17060101), Imnaha (17060102), Lower Snake-Asotin (17060103), Lower Grande Ronde (17060106), Lower Snake-Tucannon (17060107), Palouse (17060108), Lower Snake (17060110), Middle Columbia-Lake Wallula (17070101), Walla Walla (17070102), Umatilla (17070103), Willow (17070104), Middle Columbia-Hood (17070105), Klickitat (17070106), Lower John Day (17070204), Lower Deschutes (17070306), Lower Columbia-Sandy (17080001), Lewis (17080002), Lower Columbia-Clatskanie (17080003), Lower Cowlitz (17080005), Lower Columbia (17080006), Middle Fork Willamette (17090001), Coast Fork Willamette (17090002), Upper Willamette (17090003), Mckenzie (17090004), North Santiam (17090005), South Santiam (17090006), Middle Willamette (17090007), Yamhill (17090008), Molalla-Pudding (17090009), Tualatin (17090010), Clackamas (17090011), Lower Willamette (17090012), Hoh-Quillayute (17100101), Queets-Quinault (17100102), Upper Chehalis (17100103), Lower Chehalis (17100104), Grays Harbor (17100105), Willapa Bay (17100106), Necanicum (17100201), Nehalem (17100202), Wilson-Trusk-Nestuccu (17100203), Siletz-Yaquina (17100204), Alsea (17100205), Siuslaw (17100206), Siltcoos (17100207), North Umpqua (17100301), South Umpqua (17100302), Umpqua (17100303), Coos (17100304), Coquille (17100305), Sixes (17100306), Lower Rogue (17100310), Illinois (17100311), Chetco (17100312), Strait of Georgia (17110002), San Juan Islands (17110003), Nooksack (17110004), Lower Skagit (17110007), Stillaguamish (17110008), Snohomish (17110011), Lake Washington (17110012), Duwamish (17110013), Puyallup (17110014), Nisqually (17110015), Deschutes (17110016), Skokomish (17110017), Hood Canal (17110018), Puget Sound (17110019), Dungeness-Elwha (17110020), Crescent-Hoko (17110021)
18 Smith (18010101), Lower Klamath (18010209), Salmon (18010210), Trinity (18010211), Lower Pit (18020003)*, Sacramento headwaters (18020005)*, Sacramento-Lower Cow-Lower Clear (18020101)*, Lower Cottonwood (18020102), Sacramento-Lower Thomes (18020103), Sacramento-Stone Corral (18020104), Lower Butte (18020105), Lower Feather (18020106), Lower Yuba (18020107), Lower Bear (18020108), Lower Sacramento (18020109), Lower Cache (18020110), Lower American (18020111), Upper Stony (18020115), Upper Cow-Battle (18020118)*, Mill-Big Chico (18020119), Honcut headwaters (18020124), Middle San Joaquin-Lower (18040001)*, Middle San Joaquin-Lower (18040002), San Joaquin Delta (18040003), Lower Calaveras-Mormon Slough (18040004), Lower Cosumnes-Lower Mokelumne (18040005), Panoche-San Luis Reservoir (18040014)*, Suisun Bay (18050001), San Pablo Bay (18050002), Coyote (18050003), San Francisco Bay (18050004), Tomales-Drake Bays (18050005), San Francisco Coastal South (18050006)
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed (based on multiple information sources) Help
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A very large fish (sturgeon).
General Description: The largest North American freshwater fish; maximum length about 610 cm, maximum mass 1800 lbs (816 kg).
Reproduction Comments: In the Columbia River, spawns May-July (Wydoski and Whitney 1979). In California, spawning apparently occurs between mid-March and early June (Moyle 1976). Spawning occurs at intervals of 4 to 11 years. Larvae hatch from eggs in 1-2 weeks. Males may reach sexual maturity in about 9 years, females in 13-16 years (Wydoski and Whitney 1979). May live over 100 years.
Habitat Type: Freshwater
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Some are anadromous and make extensive saltwater migrations. Many move more locally from estuaries to fresh water, or farther inland within fresh water, to spawn.
Marine Habitat(s): Near shore
Estuarine Habitat(s): Bay/sound, River mouth/tidal river
Riverine Habitat(s): BIG RIVER, Low gradient, MEDIUM RIVER, Moderate gradient
Special Habitat Factors: Benthic
Habitat Comments: Found at sea, usually near shore, and in large cool rivers or streams. Spawns probably either over deep gravel riffles or in deep holes with swift currents and rock bottoms (Wydoski and Whitney 1979). In the Fraser River (river km 98-181), British Columbia, six spawning sites were identified; five were in side channels within the meandering reach (km 98-143); one spawning site was in the main channel in the confined reach (km 145-181) (Perrin et al. 2003). Migrates upstream to spawn, moves back downstream when spawning is completed.
Adult Food Habits: Invertivore, Piscivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore, Piscivore
Food Comments: A bottom feeder. Young feed mostly on the larvae of aquatic insects, crustaceans, and molluscs. A significant portion of the diet of larger sturgeon consists of fish.
Length: 340 centimeters
Economic Attributes
Economic Comments: Subject to commercial, native, and increasingly popular sport fisheries in the Fraser and Columbia river in British Columbia (Lane 1991).
Management Summary
Management Requirements: Increased river discharge during the spawning season is one of the management needs for the Kootenai River population (see recovery plan).

Catch-and-release regulations in the Hells Canyon reach of the Snake River in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington over 30 years have allowed that population to increase in size and have improved population structure, but it may take another 25-30 years for the older age-class segment of the population to show a response (Cochnauer 2002).

Sturgeons transplanted from a robust population in the free-flowing lower Columbia River downstream from Bonneville Dam to Dalles Reservoir showed good survival and growth, indicating that such transplants may be effective in supplementing populations that have low recruitment (Rien and North 2002). However, harvest needs in the lower Columbia may limit use of this population in mitigation for lost productivity in Columbia River impoundments (Rien and North 2002).

Monitoring Requirements: See Holliman and Reynolds (2002) for information on electrofishing-induced injury in juveniles (DC causes less injury than pulsed DC).
Management Research Needs: More needs to be learned about the influence of abiotic and biotic factors on spawning and subsequent recruitment (Anders et al. 2002). It is known that year-class strength is determined within 2-3 months after spawning, and that increased river discharge combined with suitable water temperatures from spawning through first exogenous feeding result in greater recruitment, but little is known about the importance of food availability or losses due to predation in determining year-class strength (Parsley et al. 2002).

Evolutionarily significant units should be determined so that potential donor and recipient populations for translocations can be identified (Rien and North 2002).

Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Fishes with Anadromous Populations

Use Class: Freshwater
Subtype(s): Rearing & Migration Area, Spawning & Rearing Area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including eggs and larvae) in appropriate habitat. For anadromous populations, occurrences are based on collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more spawning adults, redds, other evidence of spawning, or larvae or juveniles in appropriate spawning/rearing habitat.
Mapping Guidance: Conceptually, the occurrence includes the entire freshwater area used by the population, including spawning, rearing, and migration areas. For anadromous populations, an occurrence should extend from the most upstream spawning areas downstream to the ocean. However, it is desirable (and practical) to subdivide this sometimes very large occurrence, sometimes overlapping with many other spaghetti-like occurrences extending down from the upstream spawning areas to the ocean, into separate source features or sub-occurrences, labeled with a feature label that reflects the life history stage in that area. Moreover, it may make practical sense to treat the areas downstream of spawning and/or rearing areas as a mixed element animal assemblage: Freshwater Salmon Migration Corridor. This negates the need to separately map each occurrence down to the ocean from its upstream spawning location. Information about areas with different life-history uses can be generated by using best professional judgment by district or regional fish biologists and may or may not incorporate specific locational information from spawning surveys or other surveys.
Separation Barriers: Dam lacking a suitable fishway; high waterfall; upland habitat that is very unlikely to be submerged even during periods of exceptionally high water (e.g., 100-year flood or 1% flood).
Alternate Separation Procedure: For anadromous populations and migratory populations that have distinct and separate spawning and nonspawning areas, the area used by each population whose spawning area is separated by a gap of at least 10 stream-km from other spawning areas within a stream system is potentially mappable as a distinct occurrence that extends down to the ocean (but see mapping guidance), regardless of whether the spawning areas are in the same or different tributaries.

For other (e.g., nonanadromous) populations in streams, separation distance is 10 stream-km for both suitable and unsuitable habitat. However, if it is known that the same population occupies sites separated by more than 10 km (e.g., this may be common for migratory, nonanadromous populations), those sites should be included within the same occurrence. In lakes, occurrences include all suitable habitat that is presumed to be occupied (based on expert judgment), even if documented collection/observation points are more than 10 km apart. Separate sub-occurrences or source features may usefully document locations of critical spawning areas within a lake.

Separation Justification: The separation distance is arbitrary but was selected to ensure that occurrences are of manageable size but not too small. Because of the difficulty in defining suitable versus unsuitable habitat, especially with respect to dispersal, and to simplify the delineation of occurrences, a single separation distance is used regardless of habitat quality.

"Restricted movement is the norm in populations of stream salmonids during nonmigratory periods," but there is considerable variation in movements within and among species (Rodriguez 2002). Redband trout in Montana had October-December home ranges of 5-377 m, consistent with small movements observed for radio-tagged brook trout and cutthroat trout during fall and winter (Muhlfeld et al. 2001). For nonanadromous populations, little is known about juvenile dispersal (e.g., how far fishes may move between between their embryonic developmental habitat and eventual spawning site).

In summer and fall, radio-tagged cutthroat trout in Strawberry Reservoir in Utah had single-month home ranges that were usually about 3-4 km in maximum length (Baldwin et al. 2002). In the Blackfoot River drainage, Montana, radio-tagged westslope cutthroat trout moved 3-72 km (mean 31 km) to access spawning tributaries (Schmetterling 2001). This indicates that migratory but nonanadromous populations may use extensive areas and that one should not invoke the 10-km separation distance without considering the full extent of the population.

Date: 25Nov2009
Author: Hammerson, G., and L. Master
Notes: This Specs Group comprises fish species that include anadromous populations (may also include nonanadromous populations), such as lampreys, sturgeons, herrings, shads, salmonids, and smelts.

Criteria for marine occurrences (Location Use Class: Marine) have not yet been established. These may not be needed for marine occurrences of species that likely will be dealt with as mixed element assemblages (e.g., Salmonid Marine Concentration Area).

Feature Descriptor Definitions:

Spawning Area: area used for spawning but not for rearing or migration.

Rearing Area: area used for larval/juvenile development but not for spawning or migration.

Migration Corridor: area used for migration but not for rearing or spawning.

Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 12Nov2002
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Mabee, T., J. Griffin, and G. Hammerson
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 12Mar2003
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

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  • Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 20. 183 pp.

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  • Scott, W. B., and E. J. Crossman. 1973. Freshwater fishes of Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Bulletin 184. 966 pp.

  • Semakula, S.N., and P.A. Larkin. 1968. Age, growth, food, and yield of the white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) of the Fraser River, British Columbia. J. Fish. Res. Board Can. 25:2589-2602.

  • Swiatkiewicz, V.J. 1989. Lower Fraser River white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) studies from 1985-1987. Reg.l Fish. Rep. No. LM209, B.C. Minist. Environ., Surrey.

  • Troffe, P. 1999. Freshwater Fishes of the Columbia Basin. Royal B.C. Mus. 102pp.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; determination of endangered status for the Kootenai river population of the white sturgeon. Federal Register 59:45989.

  • Van Winkle, W., P. J. Anders, D. H. Secor, and D. A. Dixon, editors. 2002. Biology, management, and protection of North American sturgeon. American Fisheries Society Symposium 28, Bethesda, Maryland. xvi + 258 pp.

  • Walters, C., J. Korman, and S. McAdam. 2005. An assessment of white sturgeon stock status and trends in the lower Fraser River. Prepared for BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 67 pp.

  • Wydoski, R. S., and R. R. Whitney. 1979. Inland fishes of Washington. The University of Washington Press, Seattle. 220 pp.

References for Watershed Distribution Map
  • Holton, G. D., and H. E. Johnson. 1996. A field guide to Montana fishes. 2nd edition. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State Parks and wildlife Interpretive Association, Helena, Montana. 104 pp.

  • Master, L. L. 1996. Synoptic national assessment of comparative risks to biological diversity and landscape types: species distributions. Summary Progress Report submitted to Environmental Protection Agency. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, Virginia. 60 pp.

  • Master, L. L. and A. L. Stock. 1998. Synoptic national assessment of comparative risks to biological diversity and landscape types: species distributions. Summary Report submitted to Environmental Protection Agency. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA. 36 pp.

  • Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 432 pp.

  • Simpson, J. and R. Wallace. 1982. Fishes of Idaho. The University Press of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho. 238 pp.

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