RIVERDALE, N.D. (KXMA) — A fish species that dates back to the time of the dinosaur has made a comeback from near-extinction thanks to efforts centered in North Dakota.
Biologists at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery began another year of tagging and releasing pallid sturgeon into the Missouri River system.
The pallid sturgeon rescue program began over 20 years ago under a cloud of uncertainty.
“When we started this program back in ’97, we were concerned it would have gone extinct before we could get a population developed,” said Rob Holm, manager at the fish hatchery.
But today, as biologists and volunteers worked to tag more than three thousand young sturgeon, the program has placed more than 280,000 sturgeon into the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.
“We weren’t sure when we started the program. Could we put fish out there that would behave normally and go through the process? And that’s been answered, yes,” Holm said.
But the program is far from over. The early success means there’s a new generation of sturgeon in the river and with a life span of several decades, researchers have time to figure out how to get the fish to spawn naturally – even in a habitat that’s been drastically altered by dams that prevent its normal life cycle.
To help find answers, they’re putting electronic tags into the fish that will be in the river within hours. That involves slicing off one of the fish’s skudes – little armor on its side – to alert anglers and biologists who might find the fish in the future that it contains an invisible tag. Each sturgeon is measured and weighed and then plopped back into water to be taken out for stocking.
“All the way from Great Falls, Montana down to Bloomfield, Missouri,” said Holm.
Researchers hope that these prehistoric fish will be again able to reproduce naturally in the waters of the Missouri.
The program to save the pallid sturgeon began in 1997 at the hatchery near Riverdale.