On 14 February 2002, during routine sturgeon surveys of the lower Mississippi River, biologists from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Waterways Experiment Station (WES), collected a pallid sturgeon from a flooded sandbar at River Mile 527 of the Mississippi River, near Greenville, Mississippi. Initially, there appeared to be nothing unusual about the fish, but moments later a small tag at the base of the sturgeon’s left pectoral fin was noticed during routine measurements. It wasn’t a WES tag, but surprisingly it read “Missouri Dept. of Conservation PS97‑3167,” indicating that this endangered species had traveled hundreds of miles to eventually end up on a sandbar in Mississippi.
The sturgeon measured 515 mm standard length (SL), 557 mm fork length (FL), and 618 mm total length (TL—exclusive of caudal filament), and it weighed 680 grams. Water depth was 7.6 m, distance from shore was 82.3 m, and substrate was a mix of sand and gravel. After recording information from the tag, along with morphological and meristic data from the fish, WES biologists tagged the sturgeon again, this time with a subcutaneous Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT). The sturgeon was photographed and released.
The tag number helped us learn more about the origin of this fish. The sturgeon was bred at the Blind Pony Fish Hatchery and was released into the Mississippi River at River Mile 889, near New Madrid, Missouri, on 15 October 1997. It was approximately 300 mm FL at the time of its release. The tag allowed anyone who captured the sturgeon anytime after its release to identify and report it. It also would enable fish biologists to learn more about the biology of this enigmatic species.
This specimen provided new insights on growth, movement, and tag‑retention of hatchery‑reared pallid sturgeon. The size of the fish was slightly smaller than Age 5 pallid sturgeon from Lake Oahe, South Dakota, which averaged 579 mm FL and 719 g, and a little larger than Age 5 shovelnose sturgeon from the lower Mississippi River, Mississippi, which averaged 525 mm FL and 599 g (Kallemeyn, 1983; Morrow et al., 1998). The sturgeon moved downstream 362 miles and retained its tag four years and four months. If this fish is typical, then tagged, hatchery‑reared sturgeon show high potential for natural rates of growth, for substantial downstream dispersal, and for longterm population monitoring.
Kallemeyn, L. 1983. Status of the pallid sturgeon. Fisheries 8: 3‑9.
Morrow, J. V., Jr., J. P. Kirk, K. J. Killgore, and S. G. George. 1998. Age, growth, and mortality of shovelnose sturgeon in the lower Mississippi River. North Am. J. Fish. Management 18: 725–730.
Jack Killgore, Jan Jeffrey Hoover. Department of the Army, Waterways Experiment Station, Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg, MS 39180‑6199.
Robert A. Hrabik. Missouri Department of Conservation, Science Division, Open River Field Station, Jackson, MO 63755.
First published in American Currents (Spring 2001).
© Robert A Hrabik, K. Jack Killgore, Jan Jeffrey Hoover