The North Saskatchewan River is home to a wide diversity of fascinating creatures. Some are feathered, some are furry, and some are scaly. One of the most interesting of these creatures has been on Earth for at least 100 million years. This animal existed while dinosaurs were still walking the planet. This creature is known as a living fossil, since it has lived for many Eras relatively unchanged, while its relatives have gone extinct. They can reach 2 meters in length and 90 kg in weight. Also, these species can live for up to 150 years! This creature is: Lake Sturgeon.
These fish are recognizable by their shark-like tail, their thick skin with armour-like plates (called scutes), and their barbels that hang down like a moustache in front of their retractable mouth. Sturgeon are bottom feeders, meaning that they feed on creatures on the bottom of the lakes and rivers in which they live. Their barbels are used to detect food, which they suck up with their toothless mouth, which is located under their head. They mainly feed on small fish, insect larvae, mollusks, crayfish, and fish eggs.
Sturgeon are famous for their expensive eggs, which are considered a delicacy, known as caviar. Lake sturgeon caviar is not as desirable as the beluga, osetra, and sevgura species of sturgeon which live in the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov. These species are all Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red list. Female sturgeon reach sexual maturity after 14-33 years, and are killed for their caviar, often illegally. While their caviar is not as consumed as other sturgeon species, the lake sturgeon’s eggs and meat were overexploited in the 1800s. Today, they are considered Threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act and At Risk under the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. Sturgeon are also threatened by dams, habitat degradation, contaminants, deformations, destruction of spawning grounds, and invasive species. The populations of lake sturgeon are endangered in the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, but the populations are on the rise due to habitat management and fishing regulation. In the North Saskatchewan River, Lake Sturgeon are a catch and release species for sport fishing. There are many locations in Edmonton along the river that anglers report catching sturgeon, including Dawson Park (a known sturgeon spawning location) and Rundle Park.
USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr
It can be quite surprising to learn about what lives within the river. Sturgeon are incredible creatures that capture the imaginations of anglers, conservationists, and people of all walks of life. In the news we hear about endangered species going extinct almost every day. Extinction rates on our planet are occurring 1,000 to 10,000 faster than natural extinction rates. It is rare yet affirming that lake sturgeon, which had almost been wiped out of the North Saskatchewan River, are increasing in both population and size. As they grow, this indicates that they are living longer since they never stop growing during their lives. We may not be able to bring dinosaurs back, but with hard work in conservation we can maintain these prehistoric creature’s presence on Earth.
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2002. Status of the Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in Alberta. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Fish and Wildlife Division, and Alberta Conservation Association, Wildlife Status Report No. 46, Edmonton, AB. 30pp.
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. “Lake Sturgeon (Saskatchewan River).” Government of Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Statistical Services, 2006, dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/profiles-profils/sturgeon2-esturgeon-eng.html.
Dove, Laurie L. “How Caviar Works.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 8 Mar. 2018, science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/caviar1.htm.
Grant, Travis. “Here Be Sturgeons: Fishing in Edmonton.” Vue Weekly, 27 June 2018, www.vueweekly.com/here-be-sturgeons-fishing-in-edmonton/.
“Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser Fulvescens).” South Saskatchewan River Basin Water Information | AEP – Environment and Parks, aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/fish/sturgeons/lake-sturgeon/lake-sturgeon.aspx.
Snowdon, Wallis. “Big Fish Story: Sturgeon Make a Comeback in North Saskatchewan River | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 24 June 2016, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/sturgeon-north-saskatchewan-river-comeback-1.3649674.
“Sturgeon.” WWF, wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/sturgeon/.
“The Extinction Crisis.” Centre for Biological Diversity, www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/.
Featured image: USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr