Description

Size

  • As the largest fish in Alberta, lake sturgeon can grow to be up to 10 feet long!
Drawing of lake sturgeon with parts identified
  • A living "dinosaur" of the fish world, this unusual species is torpedo-shaped and armor-plated.
  • Like other prehistoric fish, sturgeon do not have scales – they have denticles. Denticles are scale-like plates found along the skin of the sturgeon, which give the skin its roughness. They also have five rows of bony plates, called scutes.
  • It has a shark-like, upturned tail and a pointed snout with four barbels, whisker-like tissue filaments.

Distribution

  • Despite the name, lake sturgeon are strictly river fish in Alberta; living in the North and South Saskatchewan river systems.

Natural history

Habitat

  • The usual habitat where lake sturgeon can be found are along highly productive shoals, which are ridges, banks or bars under water.
  • With adequate bottom-dwelling prey, lake sturgeon can live in a variety of habitats.
  • Spawning habitat is typically characterized by fast-moving water.

Food

  • Sturgeon are bottom feeders, eating clams, insect larvae and some fish and fish eggs.

Reproduction and growth

Breeding behaviour

  • Spawning takes place in late spring in water temperatures from 8°C to 21°C; males spawn every 1 to 3 years and females every 2 to 7 years.
  • Females do not build a nest, but deposit their eggs in the river current. Males swim close to the females during egg laying to fertilize the eggs.
  • Fertilized eggs develop a sticky coating and adhere to substrate.
  • Large females can produce up to 500,000 eggs.

Growth process

  • Lake sturgeon take a longer time to reach maturity than other Alberta fish species.
  • Male sturgeon do not spawn until they are about 15 to 20 years old. Females usually spawn between the ages of 20 and 25.
  • Lake sturgeon can live up to 150 years, with the oldest fish in Alberta being recorded at 62 years old.

Conservation and management

Status

Lake sturgeon are classified as At Risk in the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Sturgeon are also classified as Threatened under Alberta's Wildlife Act; protective regulations under this act that apply to fish species are under development. See:

This species is also protected under the Alberta Fisheries Regulations, which regulate fisheries harvest in Alberta.

Issues

Threats include:

  • habitat degradation due to water pollution and fragmentation due to dams
  • improper handling during angling
  • changing climate leading to reduced flow during summer months and increased water temperatures
  • introduction of invasive or stocked species
  • inherent biological characteristics (for example, slow growth and age to maturity) make recovery a long-term initiative

A full list of issues and threats can be found on the Lake Sturgeon FSI webpage.

Current management

A lake sturgeon population assessment in being completed in the North Saskatchewan River System (2022) and the South Saskatchewan River System (2023) to update the population status in 2024. The population assessment will be done through a collaborative mark-recapture angling program with Alberta Environment and Parks and citizen scientists. Lake sturgeon that are captured will be checked for a tag, and if untagged, they will be tagged with its tag number recorded. By tagging fish and recording previously tagged fish, fisheries biologists can estimate the number of lake sturgeon in the river.

Work will be happening in collaboration with the provincial government of Saskatchewan and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to complete a standardized and unified assessment of lake sturgeon abundance and distribution. Lake sturgeon tissues will also be collected and analyzed for diseases to determine the risks of sturgeon aquaculture in Alberta.

Fish Sustainability Index

Alberta's lake sturgeon populations have been assessed under the Fish Sustainability Index. For the most recent assessment, see:

Fishing

Lake sturgeon are catch and release only, as listed in the Alberta sportfishing regulations. For handling tips, see the My Wild Alberta website at:

For an explanation of current management strategies, see:

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