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North Dakota's Endangered and Threatened Species

Pallid Sturgeon
Scaphirhynchus albus

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

Status: Endangered

Pallid sturgeons are a prehistoric fish armored with rows of bony plates that run lengthwise from head to tail. The only other fish that may be confused with the pallid is the shovelnose sturgeon. Both these fish inhabit the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers of North Dakota.

The pallid sturgeon can weigh up to 80 pounds while the shovelnose reaches a maximum of 5 pounds and an average of 2 pounds. As demonstrated in the adjoining photographs, the back and sides of the pallid sturgeon are grayish-white versus the brown color of the shovelnose. The length of the barbels, four whisker-like appendages in front of the mouth, also distinguish the pallid from the shovelnose. On the pallid, the two inner barbels are only about one-half as long as the outer. Young pallid sturgeons may be confused with shovelnose sturgeons and therefore all sturgeon must be returned to the water in North Dakota. Shovelnose sturgeons are very numerous in the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers and populations are in no danger at this time.

JPG -- Shovelnose Sturgeon picture

Catch records from North Dakota indicate the pallid sturgeon was somewhat common even in the 1950's and 1960's. However, yearly occurrences began substantially decreasing until an average of only six observations per year were recorded in the 1980's. No natural reproduction has been documented in north Dakota in more than a decade. Even though pallid may reach 50 years of age, both male and female may go three to ten years between spawning.

Pallid sturgeon are adapted for living close to the bottom of large, shallow, silty rivers with sand and gravel bars. With the introduction of dams and bank stabilization, river habitat was covered by lakes, water velocity was increased making deep stretches of clear water, and water temperatures significantly decreased. All of these factors are believed to have contributed to the decline in fish numbers.

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