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MAY 1, 2008


Pallid Sturgeon Recovery Efforts


The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) organized the first intensive effort targeted at sampling pallid sturgeon in reproductive condition in the upper channelized Missouri River. Fiftythree volunteers were solicited from area universities, colleges, and state and federal agencies to sample from Sunday, April 13 through Thursday, April 24. Sampling crews targeted the area between the confluence of the Platte and Missouri Rivers (River Mile [RM] 595.0) and Brownville, NE (RM 535.0) and the Sioux City, IA and Decatur, NE areas. Because of this additional help, crews were able to sample 30 different river bends which spanned over 80.8 river miles. Baxter Poe, Brandon Eder, and Jim Brannen (left to right) display three adult pallid stur-

geon that were sent to Gavins Point Hatchery in Yankton, SD. Sampling was conducted with 200 foot trotlines (baited with worms) and monofilament gill nets. This was the first time that NGPC had used trotlines intensively to collect broodstock fish and was tremendously successful. Trot lines caught a total of 161 pallid sturgeon in 11 days of sampling, while the monofilament gill nets had minimal success mainly due to variable, and often times, harsh flow conditions.

Background Pallid sturgeon are native to the Missouri and Mississippi River systems . Due to population declines, the species was listed as federally endangered in 1990. Human alterations to the river such as the creation of dams, destroying or altering spawning areas, reducing food sources, altering water temperature and turbidity, and changing the natural hydrograph has likely been the driving forces behind these declines. Several recovery projects were created to monitor the current population status of pallid sturgeon and other native river species, evaluate changes in habitat alterations/improvements, and to identify and understand various life history characteristics of pallid sturgeon, particularly reproductive behaviors. In addition to these recovery projects, a stocking augmentation program was developed to insure the persistence of the species until such time when pallid sturgeon become self-sustaining. Shovelnose (left) and pallid (right) In the past, the Middle Basin has relied sturgeon on the availability of Upper Basin progeny because very few adult pallid sturgeon in reproductive condition had ever been captured in the Middle Basin. In the spring of 2007, the NGPC & United States Geological Survey (USGS) initiated a focused effort to collect adult sturgeon in reproductive condition for research and the stocking program. This effort resulted in the capture of two adult males and one adult female. These fish were spawned successfully in the hatchery and their progeny will be the first pallid sturgeon ever stocked into the Missouri River from adults collected from the Missouri River in Nebraska. Based on this success, the Middle Basin Work Group established a priority to capture and spawn locally collected broodstock in 2008. Clint Burrell poses with an adult pallid sturgeon in reproductive condition.


Total Pallid Sturgeon Captures Length Frequency of Pallid Sturgeon Collected 18 16 14 12


A total of 168 pallid sturgeon were collected during the 2008 broodstock collection efforts (Figure 1). Thirtyone of these fish (>750 mm) were sent to Gavin’s Point National Fish Hatchery and four were sent to Blind Pony State Fish Hatchery for evaluation of their sex and reproductive condition. Three additional adult pallid sturgeon of sufficient broodstock size had to be released because the transport truck had already reached capacity. Additionally, 97 known hatchery reared and 33 unknown status pallid sturgeon were collected.

10 8 6

Sex & Stage Determination

4 2

0 Upon arrival at the hatchery, pallid sturgeon were 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 1100 placed in large holding tanks until a reproductive diagLength (mm) nosis could be conducted. On two separate occasions, Figure 1. Number of pallid sturgeon caught per 25-mm length group from April 13 - 24. Janice Bryan with the USGS visited the hatcheries to determine sex and reproductive stage of all pallid sturgeon that had been transported. There were 21 male and 4 female pallid sturgeon in reproductive condition at Gavin’s Point National Fish Hatchery and will be spawned this year. In addition, all four fish that were transported to Blind Pony State Fish Hatchery were reproductive adults (three males and one female). All fish from both hatcheries that were not in reproductive condition were released back into the river near their capture sites. Prior to being released, several of these fish were surgically implanted with a telemetry tag so that research crews can monitor their movement patterns. In addition, telemetry will allow us to locate and recapture these fish for a future reproductive assessment.

Hatchery Recapture Data Of the 97 known hatchery reared pallid sturgeon collected during this effort, 65 could be traced back to their hatchery, stocking, and year class origin. Fish raised at Garrison National Fish Hatchery (N=35) represented 54% of our total catch followed by Gavin’s Point National Fish Hatchery (N=26), Neosho National Fish Hatchery (N=3) and Blind Pony State Fish Hatchery (N=1). Aaron Von Eschen, Jason Rockne, Dusty Schelbitski, and Tim Porter Three fish collected had passed through Gavin’s Point Dam and displays two pallid sturgeon that were taken to the hatchery. were captured around the Platte River. The majority of hatchery raised fish were stocked at the Bellevue, NE (RM 604.1) boat ramp (N=36) followed by Mulberry Bend (RM 775.0) boat ramp (N=10) and Boonville, MO (RM 195.1)(N=8). The average movement of these fish was 21.3 miles downstream from their original stocking site. The largest downstream movement was 307.6 miles from Sunshine Bottoms (RM 866.2) to Frazer’s Bend (RM 558.6) and the largest upstream movement was 401.8 miles from Boonville, MO (RM 195.1) to Upper Plattsmouth Bend (RM 593.3). Recaptured pallid sturgeon of hatchery origin had been at-large for an average of 4.1 years. The 2002 year class was the most abundant year class with 35 individuals collected followed by the 2005 (N=8), 2001 (N=7), 2003 (N=6), and 2004 (N=5) year classes. A notable recapture came from a fish stocked in Boyer Chute during the reenactment of the Lewis and Clark voyage in 2004. There were only 51 fish stocked during this event and this is the first time a fish Randy Stutheit holds up one of many hatchery-reared from this small stocking had been recaptured. pallid sturgeon that were recaptured during the broodstock collection period.


Sampling Effort 25 Wild Hatchery Unknown



The intensive pallid sturgeon broodstock collection effort ran from Sunday, April 14 through Thursday, April 24. A total of 53 volunteers, representing 7 state and federal agencies and 4 state universities and colleges worked a total of 87 days. Eighteen NGPC Missouri River Program employees also assisted in this effort and worked a total of 134 days. This resulted in 221 days of effort during the 12 days and allowed us to have between 3 and 6 boats on the water each day. A total of ninety, 200-ft. monofilament gill nets were deployed. Gill nets were not very effective in 2008 due to the high water conditions and the amount of debris flowing down-river. A total of 303 trot lines were deployed resulting in 11,953 hook nights. Trot lines were surprisingly specific to sturgeon species, with sturgeon accounting for 3,842 of the 4,254 fish sampled. Prior to this effort, the NGPC had only used trot lines in a limited extent on the Missouri River. Because this gear has proven to be very effective at sampling pallid sturgeon it will likely play a larger role in future sampling efforts.




0 4/9/08





Figure 2. Number of pallid sturgeon collected for each day throughout the broodstock collection effort in 2008

Discharge (cfs)

Temperature (C)

Pallid sturgeon catch

Pallid sturgeon (hatchery reared or wild origin) were collected everyday that crews sampled. In addition, at least one adult pallid sturgeon (>750 mm) was transported to a hatchery for a reproductive diagnosis everyday but one. Catch rates of pallid sturgeon var16 25 48000 ied throughout the 12-day period and it appeared that higher catches 46000 Catch were related to an increase in river 14 Discharge (cfs) 20 44000 Temp (*C) discharge (Figure 3). The hydrograph at Nebraska City, NE peaked 42000 12 on Saturday, April 19 at 1800 hours. 15 40000 Crews sampling on Sunday, April 10 38000 20 collected 13 adult pallid sturgeon and 9 other hatchery or un10 36000 known status pallid sturgeon. 8 34000

Sampling gears were deployed in a variety of habitat types and catch rates varied between areas. This 30000 indicates that sampling success 28000 4 0 may have been more related to an 4/9/08 4/13/08 4/17/08 4/21/08 4/25/08 increase in activity levels of pallid Figure 3. River discharge, gage height and temperature from 4/9/2008 through 4/25/2008 at Nebraska City, NE. sturgeon than our ability to target specific habitat types. During this effort, crews fished water temperatures ranging from 5.8-14.2oC and changes in the river gage height of over 3 feet. Weather conditions were less than ideal on several days and exhibited extreme fluctuations in temperature and precipitation. On Tuesday, April 15, the high temperature was recorded at 79°F with south winds of 40-45 mph, compared to Thursday, April 17 and Friday, April 18, when crews sampled in temperatures in the upper 30°F range with rain and sustained 25 mph northwest winds. 32000



The number of pallid sturgeon that were collected over the 12 day period exceeded the expectations of everyone involved in this effort and will provide great benefits towards the recovery of the species. We learned a great deal from this effort and it could not have been accomplished without the hard work of all of the volunteers. We will continue this broodstock collection effort as long as it is needed and look forward to developing additional relationships with other agencies and organizations.

Dave Tunink holds a pallid sturgeon that will be used for propagation in Gavin’s Point National Fish Hatchery this year.


Dave Jensen (USACE)

Jerrod Hall (NGPC)

Megan Thul (ISU)

Adam Behmer (NGPC)

Dave Tunink (NGPC)

Jerrod Stirling (USACE)

Michael McGuire (UNL)

Adam Rupe (UNL)

Derek Tomes (UNL)

Jim Brannen (NGPC)

Mick Sandine (USACE)

Andrew Veech (NPS)

Drew Podany (UNL)

Joe Holdren (UNL)

Mike Garvey (SSCHS)

Anthony Miller (UNL)

Dusty Schelbitzki (NGPC)

John Hagrave (USACE)

Neil Bass (USACE)

Brandon Eder (NGPC)

Ed Zmarzly (NGPC)

Josh Kohout (UNL)

Phil Stollberg (UNL)

Baxter Poe (PSC)

Emily Hiatt (NGPC)

Josh Wilhelm (NGPC)

Randy Stutheit (NGPC)

Ben Neely (NGPC)

Frank Albrecht (NGPC)

Ken Hatten (NGPC)

Ryan Rezac (UNL)

Ben Ream (USACE)

Gerald Mestl (NGPC)

Kirk Steffensen (NGPC)

Sarah Sigl (WSC)

Bill Garvey (NGPC)

Greg Hartel (NGPC)

Lauren Thacker-Lynn (UNL)

Scott Luedtke (NGPC)

Blake Smith (NGPC)

Greg Schroder (UNL)

Lisa Perveneckis (NPS)

Steve Podany (OPD)

Brenda Pracheil (UNL)

Jason Rockne (USFWS)

Lonny Zwickle (USPS)

Susan Zwickle (NGPC)

Cameron Goble (NGPC)

Jason Skold (TNC)

Luke Kowalewski (NGPC)

Tim Porter (NGPC)

Clint Burrell (NGPC)

Jay Foland (UNL)

Marilyn Tabor (NGPC)

Todd Perry (Iowa DNR)

Dan Dobesh (UNL)

Jen Hogue (NGPC)

Mark Drobish (USACE)

Tony Barada (UNL)

Dan Kolterman (UNL)

Jeff Arnold (NGPC)

Mark Frickel (UNL)

Vince Shay (TNC)

Dan Wiley (NPS)

Jeff Koch (ISU)

Marty Hamel (NGPC)

Dave Dollinger (NGPC)

Jeff Kurrus (NGPC)

Matthew Neukirch (LPS-NRD)

William Garvey, Sr. (TYSON)


168 - Total number of pallid sturgeon collected

35 - Number of pallid sturgeon sent to the hatchery for evaluation

1.23 miles - Length of all the night crawlers used if laid end to end

29 - Number of pallid sturgeon in reproductive condition (5 females and 24 males)

1 - Number of people that fell into the river (Jeff Arnold, NGPC Employee)

1,094 mm - Longest pallid sturgeon collected

5,278 - Total number of miles driven by sampling crews

6 - Total number of lake sturgeon collected

3,530 - Total number of miles driven by NGPC tank trucks

2 - Total number of pallid x shovelnose hybrids collected

26oF - Coldest day

3,668 - Total number of shovelnose sturgeon collected

50 mph - Highest recorded wind speed

5,367 lbs of sturgeon collected

53 - Total number of volunteers (44 males and 9 females)

4,254 - Total number of fish collected

0 - Total number of volunteers that failed to show up

11.5 miles of trot lines deployed

3.5 miles of gill nets deployed

722 miles - Longest round trip distance traveled by a volunteer (Clint Burwell, NGPC)

13,000 - Approximate number of night crawlers used during this effort

4 - Most days worked by one volunteer (Matt Neukirch, Lower Platte South NRD)

2008 Newsletter  

Summary of 2008 efforts

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