White Sturgeon, USDA NRCS CA, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

White Sturgeon: Everything you Need to Know About Acipenser transmontanus

What is White Sturgeon?

White sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), belonging to the family Acipenseridae, is one of the largest freshwater fish species in North America. Their size, unique morphology, and ancient lineage have captured the interest of researchers and the general public. Their evolutionary history can be traced back to the early Jurassic period, making them a living relic of a long past.

Morphology and Physiology

The white sturgeon is characterized by its elongated, torpedo-shaped body covered in five rows of bony plates called scutes, which serve as armour. These fish possess a heterocercal tail, with the upper lobe longer than the lower one. Their snouts are broad and flattened, bearing four sensory barbels on the ventral side, which are used to detect prey in the murky depths of their habitat.

White sturgeon exhibit a cartilaginous skeleton and lack scales, making them more closely related to sharks than most bony fish species. They possess a spiral valve intestine, a feature shared with sharks and rays, which increases the surface area available for nutrient absorption. 

How Big Do White Sturgeon Get?

The species is also known for its large size, with some individuals reaching lengths of over 20 feet (6 meters) and weighing up to 1,800 pounds (816 kg).

Where Are White Sturgeon Found?

The white sturgeon’s range extends from the Gulf of Alaska to Central California. They inhabit large rivers, estuaries, and coastal waters, preferring deep, slow-moving pools and channels. The species is anadromous, meaning they migrate between freshwater and marine environments. Juveniles typically remain in freshwater for several years before migrating to the ocean, where they grow and mature before returning to their natal rivers to spawn.

What Do White Sturgeon Eat and How Do They Behave?

White sturgeon are opportunistic bottom-feeders, primarily consuming a diet of fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. Their barbels and a highly sensitive electroreceptive system enable them to locate prey in the sediment even in low-visibility conditions.

These fish are known for their longevity, with some individuals living up to 100 years. They also exhibit late maturity, with females reaching reproductive age between 15 and 25 years and males between 12 and 17 years. Spawning typically occurs between May and July, with females producing hundreds of thousands of eggs, which males externally fertilize. The adhesive eggs then attach to the substrate, developing into larvae.

Are White Sturgeon Dangerous?

White sturgeon are not considered dangerous to humans, as they are not aggressive and do not have any venomous or harmful features. They are primarily bottom-feeders and feed on fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates, with no interest in attacking humans. Although they are large and powerful creatures, interactions with humans are rare and typically pose no significant threat.

That being said, if a sturgeon is accidentally hooked while fishing or feels threatened, it may thrash or try to escape, potentially causing injury due to its size and strength. In these situations, it is essential to exercise caution and respect the animal’s space. However, white sturgeon pose minimal risk to humans, and their presence in rivers and coastal areas should not be a cause for concern.

Are White Sturgeon Good to Eat?

White sturgeon are considered good to eat by many people, who often describe the meat as having a mild, delicate flavour and a firm, yet tender texture. Sturgeon meat is often compared to that of halibut or swordfish, and its taste is not overly “fishy.” Additionally, the nutritional benefits of white sturgeon, such as its high protein content and omega-3 fatty acids, make it a healthy and appealing choice for many seafood enthusiasts.

Is White Sturgeon Caviar Good?

In addition to the meat, sturgeon roe, or eggs, are highly prized as a luxury food item known as caviar. Sturgeon caviar is valued for its unique flavour and texture and is often enjoyed as a delicacy on special occasions.

How to Catch White Sturgeon

Catching white sturgeon can be an exciting and rewarding experience for anglers. To increase your chances of success, it is important to follow a few key steps:

Know the regulations:

Before attempting to catch white sturgeon, familiarize yourself with the fishing regulations in your area. These regulations may include size limits, catch limits, and specific fishing seasons. Adhering to these rules is essential for the conservation of the species.

Choose the right location:

White sturgeon inhabit large rivers, estuaries, and coastal waters on the Pacific Coast of North America. They prefer deep, slow-moving pools and channels with a sandy or muddy bottom. Research the best sturgeon fishing spots in your area and choose a location with a history of sturgeon presence.

Time your trip:

Sturgeon are more likely to be active during periods of low light, such as early morning or late afternoon, and during incoming tides in estuaries. Some anglers have also reported increased success during the new and full moon phases.

Use appropriate gear:

Heavy-duty fishing gear is necessary when targeting large sturgeon. A strong, medium-heavy to heavy-action rod, a high-capacity reel with a powerful drag system, and a braided fishing line with a test strength of 50-100 pounds are recommended.

Select suitable bait:

White sturgeon are bottom feeders, primarily consuming fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. Fresh bait such as salmon or lamprey eel, as well as shrimp, nightcrawlers, or other local prey items, can be effective in attracting sturgeon.

Rig your bait:

A popular rig for sturgeon fishing is the sliding sinker rig, which consists of a sliding weight (usually between 2-12 ounces, depending on the current) above a swivel, followed by a 12-36 inch leader and a hook. Circle hooks, ranging in size from 5/0 to 9/0, are commonly used, as they are more likely to hook the fish in the corner of the mouth, facilitating catch and release if needed.

Be patient and vigilant:

Sturgeon fishing can require patience, as these fish can be slow to take the bait. When a sturgeon does take the bait, it may mouth it for several minutes before swallowing. Pay close attention to your rod tip for any signs of a bite, and be prepared to set the hook firmly when the fish commits.

Landing and releasing:

If you catch a white sturgeon, be prepared to handle it carefully, especially if it must be released due to regulations. Use a landing net or cradle to support the fish, and always keep the fish in the water as much as possible. Remove the hook gently and release the fish quickly, ensuring it is upright and swimming strongly before letting it go.

By following these guidelines, anglers can increase their chances of catching white sturgeon while contributing to this remarkable species’ responsible and sustainable management.

Conservation and Management

Historically, overfishing, habitat degradation and the construction of dams have contributed to the decline of white sturgeon populations. While commercial fishing for the species has been banned or heavily regulated in many areas, bycatch and illegal harvest remain concerns.

Efforts to conserve and manage white sturgeon populations include habitat restoration, fish passage improvements, and hatchery supplementation programs. Researchers are also studying the impacts of climate change and other environmental factors on the species to inform future management decisions.


The white sturgeon is a unique and captivating species that has withstood the test of time. With their distinct morphology, impressive size, and complex life history, these ancient fish continue to captivate researchers and conservationists alike. As we strive to understand better and protect this enigmatic species, it is crucial that we employ comprehensive conservation strategies, taking into account the numerous challenges they face.

It is our responsibility to ensure that the ancient legacy of the white sturgeon endures as a testament to our planet’s rich biodiversity and ecological complexity. Collaborative efforts between researchers, fisheries managers, policymakers, and local communities are essential for ensuring white sturgeon populations’ long-term survival and sustainability. By fostering a better understanding of their biology, behaviour, and habitat requirements, we can work together to preserve these remarkable living fossils for generations to come.

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