The White Sturgeon is an impressive fish. It is not only the largest fish in the Lake, it is the largest fresh–water fish in North America. Found to the west of the Rockies, this fish can grow to a length of 6 meters, a weight of 1800 kilograms, and have a lifespan of more than a century. For Kootenay Lake, the record weight is 350 kilograms and an estimated age of 85–90 years. The current population is of the order of 1200, but they are mainly comprised of adults over 30 years of age. Only a few percent is made up of juveniles. It seems that the sturgeon have not successfully reproduced since the construction of the Libby Dam in Montana in 1974. But, there is now a vigourous sturgeon restoration program which may redress the problem.
While many White Sturgeon are anadromous (spend time in both salt and fresh water), those in the upper Kootenay River and Kootenay Lake have adapted to a completely fresh water existence. Indeed, this adaptation has resulted in a population of genetically distinct sturgeon which are even different than those in the Upper Columbia from which they have been separated since the last ice age.
The sturgeon is ancient: it evolved to its present form long before any other of the local fish. Yet, it is a remarkably successful animal. A bottom feeder, it extrude its mouth and can suck in something as large as a trout.
Many of the pictures, below, show a quite dark looking fish. But these are shots from above. The White Sturgeon is named for its white underside.
Sturgeon are easily recognizable by their elongated bodies, tapered nose, distinctive scutes and barbels, and elongated upper tail.
Children who participate in the Surgeon restocking program pose with a cutout of an adult White Sturgeon to show them just how large it can grow.
A school child picks a juvenile White Sturgeon from a bucket prior to placing it in the stream.
The long pointed nose of the sturgeon gave rise to the name of similarly shaped indigenous canoe used by the Ktunaxa and the Sinixt.
The sturgeon is a bottom dweller were it scours for the stream bed for crustaceans and small fish.
White Sturgeon. Don Miller, working with the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, examines a sturgeon on the Main Lake.
BC Ministry of Environment