Petition To List White Sturgeon As Threatened Introduced To Fish And Game Commission

CDFW photo of white sturgeon.

The California Fish and Game Commission announced a petition is in the works to list the white sturgeon as endangered. Here’s a summary of the petition:

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN pursuant to the provisions of California Fish and Game Code Section 2073.3, that on November 29, 2023 the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) received a petition from Jonathan A. Rosenfield, Ph.D, Science Director of San Francisco Baykeeper, Gary Bobker, Program Director of the Bay Institute, Barbara Barrigan- Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, and Chris Shutes, Executive Director of California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, to list White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act.

White sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish species in North America. Males generally mature between the age of 10 to 12 years, with females maturing between the ages of 12 and 16 years. A small portion of adults spawn in any given year. Successful reproduction occurs episodically, when spring-summer river flows are high enough to support incubation and early rearing success. Reproducing populations have been documented along the West Coast in the Sacramento and San Joaquin drainages of California, and the Columbia and Fraser River drainages, as well as land-locked populations in the Columbia River basin above major dams, in Washington and British Columbia.

White Sturgeon spawn exclusively in freshwater environments and spend most of their lives in saline habitats, returning to freshwater to spawn. Spawning requires deep water (greater than four meters deep) with swift currents and at temperatures from 8 to 19 degrees Celsius (44 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit). Data collected indicates a declining population productivity. Both abundance and population productivity are likely to have declined in response to massive fish kills caused by harmful algal blooms in 2022 and 2023, and range constriction caused by historic construction of impassable dams and their current operations.

In October, the state’s Fish and Game Commission reduced white sturgeon harvest regulations to help protect the species.

The California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) enacted emergency regulations yesterday to reduce the harvest of white sturgeon in state waters. The new regulations will reduce the number of fish that can be kept to one per year, reduce the slot limit to 42-48 inches, cap the number of white sturgeon that can be possessed on a vessel at two per day and add seasonal closures to sturgeon fishing in key spawning areas. The new regulations are expected to go into effect in late October or early November following approval by the Office of Administrative Law.

The new regulations were enacted by the Commission following a joint recommendation by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and angling groups. The emergency action was taken in response to long-term declines in adult white sturgeon populations as well as impacts of a harmful algal bloom (HAB) in the summer of 2022.

“It was a difficult decision to recommend restrictions to another fishery in California,” said CDFW Fisheries Branch Chief Jay Rowan. “The angling community representatives really stepped up by offering deep concessions to help reduce sturgeon harvest and showed, yet again, that they are committed to protecting this resource.”

AS CDFW stated, green sturgeon are already listed as threatened, while white sturgeon were considered a “Species of Special Concern.”

There are two sturgeon species in California: green sturgeon and white sturgeon. Green sturgeon are listed as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. White sturgeon are listed in California as a Species of Special Concern.

Sturgeon are one of the oldest fish in existence with fossil records dating back more than 200 million years. Individual white sturgeon can live about 100 years and don’t start spawning until approximately 14 to 19 years old. Scientists estimate that white sturgeon in the Central Valley only spawn successfully every six to seven years. White sturgeon abundance has declined significantly from approximately 200,000 harvestable fish in 1997 to around 33,000 (recent five-year average). Sturgeon fisheries in California have closed multiple times in the past due to overharvest.

“Like other long-lived fish that spawn infrequently, sturgeon are susceptible to population declines due to a variety of environmental stressors and overharvest,” said Rowan.