Juvenile Sturgeon Monitoring and Research 2015-2016

(Knight’s Landing, Yolo County)

Species / Location

White (Acipenser transmontanus) and green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) are slow-growing, long-lived fish. White sturgeon are the oldest living and largest freshwater fish in North America reaching lengths up to 20 feet. Sturgeon are susceptible to changes in environmental conditions brought about by drought, such as reduced water flows, poor water quality and high water temperatures. Sturgeon have been around for ages; however, we still do not have a complete understanding of their movements and habitat preferences which is critical for making informed management decisions. This project is tagging juvenile sturgeon in the lower Sacramento River, tracking movements, collecting biological information, and analyzing hydro acoustic data resulting in an improved understanding of the movement and habitat ecology of juvenile sturgeon.

Monitoring and Research

This Juvenile Sturgeon Monitoring and Research Program capture individuals, acoustically tags, and monitor the movements of wild sturgeons. The objectives are to:  

  1. develop new capture methods and determine optimal timing and locations for catching juvenile sturgeon;
  2. describe sturgeon distribution, use and timing as sturgeon pass through the Delta to and from San Francisco Bay;
  3. assess the seasonal migration and survival past or through engineered flood plains (e.g., Yolo Bypass) and levee restoration sites.

Even though extensive sampling efforts have occurred with limited tagging success valuable information on methods and environmental conditions and lack of sturgeon present will aid in future efforts to understand the biology and ecology of juvenile sturgeon. Tagging and acoustic tracking methods show success in assessing fish behavior and residency time within this habitat (e.g., one fish stay in tagging area then moved up river staying for month and then worked its way to the ocean). Results of this work will provide a fundamental understanding of movement and habitat ecology of juvenile sturgeon to assist natural resource managers in their decision-making process.

Need for Program

On January 17, 2014, Governor Brown issued a proclamation declaring a state of emergency due to prolonged drought conditions. That declaration was then redoubled on April 25, 2014. These Proclamations direct the Department to take specific actions related to evaluating and managing the changing impacts of drought on threatened and endangered species and species of special concern, as well as to conduct specific monitoring actions described in the State and Federal Water Project Drought Operations Plan. The Juvenile Sturgeon Monitoring and Research Program directly answers the Governor’s call.

Future Efforts

Understanding juvenile sturgeon movements and habitat ecology is important to ensure science-based fisheries management decisions. This project is experimental and valuable information will be gained on the techniques used to capture and track juvenile sturgeon. Information gathered by this study will improve our understanding of juvenile sturgeon biology and ecology for resource decisions.

Partners and Contacts

  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • University of California, Davis

For additional information contact Russ Bellmer, CDFW at russ.bellmer@wildlife.ca.gov, Peter Klimley, UCD at apklimley@ucdavis.edu or Michael Thomas, UCD at mjthomas@ucdavis.edu.

biologist with fish lying on its back and surgery implements
Surgery to implant an acoustic tag in juvenile sturgeon. CDFW photo by Geoffrey Schroeder