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Young hatchery sturgeon tested before release into Snake River in Magic Valley

Sturgeon raised at the Niagara Springs Sturgeon Hatchery are almost ready to be stocked in the Snake River.
Credit: Terry Thompson/Idaho Fish and Game
A year-old sturgeon reared in the Niagara Springs Sturgeon Hatchery along the Snake River south of Wendell, Idaho.

GOODING COUNTY, Idaho — Young white sturgeon raised in the new Niagara Springs Sturgeon Hatchery south of Wendell will soon be stocked into the Snake River in South Central Idaho. Before releasing the fish, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Power test them to make sure they're capable of reproducing.

IDFG said the white sturgeon are unique from typical hatchery fish, which are typically sterile when they're stocked so they can't spawn with wild fish. The main goal of sturgeon conservation efforts at the Niagara Springs hatchery is to ensure sturgeon populations in the Snake River can continue to support recreational fishing.

Eggs for the hatchery program are collected from naturally spawning sturgeon between Bliss Dam and CJ Strike Reservoir, then brought back to the hatchery to be reared for one year.

All sturgeon raised at the hatchery are marked by removing a single scute, or bony plate on their side, and a small PIT tag is inserted under the skin. The mark will identify the fish as having a PIT tag. That tag will give biologists who may handle the fish years later information about their age, stocking date and size at stocking.

Credit: Rylee Olson/Idaho Fish and Game

During marking, blood is drawn from each fish that will allow biologists to determine the “ploidy,” or sets of chromosomes the fish has.

Sturgeon with eight sets of chromosomes are capable of reproducing. Sturgeon with 10 or 12 sets of chromosomes can still reproduce, but most of their offspring will either be sterile or future generations of fish from these adults will be sterile.

Credit: Rylee Olson/Idaho Fish and Game

IDFG said Friday that out of 1,613 fish tested, 13 had abnormal ploidy levels and were culled. They will not be stocked into the Snake River.

"Although this is a very small percentage, it is important to remove these individuals from the population given the long life span of sturgeon and the high survival rates of stocked fish in some of the Snake River reaches," IDFG said in a news release about the conservation program. "By only stocking fish with normal ploidy levels, we will ensure that if these hatchery fish spawn naturally in the coming years, that their offspring will be viable, meeting the conservation goal of a healthy white sturgeon population in the Snake River."

Most of the 1,600 sturgeon found to have normal ploidy levels will be stocked at one year of age, after they have grown to a size of one foot or longer, and weigh at least 7 ounces -- 200 grams.

More information about white sturgeon is available here.

The Niagara Springs hatchery came online in 2021. It is a partnership between Idaho Fish and Game and Idaho Power Company.

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