E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Acipenser transmontanus Richardson, 1836
White Sturgeon
Family: Acipenseridae

Photo of species

© Tim Loh  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #102491)

Distribution of Acipenser transmontanus in British Columbia.
Source: Distribution map provided by Don McPhail for E-Fauna BC
E-Fauna's interactive maps for fish are not yet available.


The White Sturgeon is an endangered marine species of fish that spawns in freshwater river systems along the Pacific Coast of North America. It is found from the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, south to Monterey, California. In Canada, it is only found in British Columbia. Spawning populations are found in three major river systems: Fraser, Columbia and Scaramento River drainages (Ptolemy and Vennesland 2003, BCCDC 2010).

Ptolemy and Vennesland say: "In Canada, white sturgeon are found only in British Columbia: in the Fraser River system from the estuary upstream past the Morkill River, northwest of McBride; in the upper Columbia system in Arrow and Slocan lakes and in the mainstem downstream of Hugh L. Keenleyside Dam; and in the Kootenay River from Kootenay Lake upstream to the U.S. border. Reports of sturgeon from the Skeena, Nass and Yukon rivers, when checked, have been found to be green sturgeon....White sturgeon have been identified from several rivers on Vancouver Island, but are not resident."

Ptolemy and Vennesland (2003) describe this as the largest freshwater fish in Canada, sometimes reaching lengths of more than 6 m (Scott and Crossman 1973). It is grey, pale olive or grey-brown above to grey or white below with rows of bony plates (scutes) along the back and sides, a large broad head with small eyes, 4 barbels anterior to the mouth, and one dorsal fin; the body is more rounded than other species of sturgeon (Scott and Crossman 1973). It is most similar in appearance to the green sturgeon. However, "white sturgeon have two rows of 4 - 8 scutes on the ventral surface between the pelvic and anal fins; green sturgeon have only one row of 1- 4 scutes.(Ptolemy and Vennesland 2003). This is a bottom feeding species, with young feeding on aquatic insect larvae, crustaceans, and molluscs, adults feeding on mainly fish (BCCDC 2010). It is a long-lived species that may reach ages of greater than 100 years (Ptolemy and Vennesland 2003).

The British Columbia Conservation Data Centre (2012) lists eleven populations of this species, and says: "Some are anadromous and make extensive saltwater migrations. Many move more locally from estuaries to fresh water, or further inland within fresh water, to spawn."

Population declines are occurring and are attributed to habitat decline as a result of dams as well as dredging, dyking and channelization of rivers and streams (Ptolemy and Vennesland 2003).

Read the COSEWIC status report for this species.

Read about a 12 foot long, 1100 lb White Sturgeon caught in the Fraser River in 2012.

Species Information

Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 44 - 48; Anal soft rays: 28 - 31. Distinguished by the 2 rows of 4 to 8 bony plates on a midventral line between the anus and anal fin, and about 45 rays in the dorsal fin. Gray or brownish above, paler below; fins gray.

Source: FishBase. Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.


Species Biology

Spends most of its time in the sea, usually close to shore. Enters estuaries of large rivers and moves far inland to spawn. Individuals larger than 48.3 cm feed mainly on fishes; smaller ones feed mainly on chironomids, but also takes small crustaceans, other insects and mollusks. Feeding ceases just before spawning.

Source: FishBase. Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.


BC Distribution and Notes

The white sturgeon is in serious decline in the Nechako, upper Columbia, and Kootenay rivers. The Kootenay population is genetically distinctive. The apparent head shape differences between the Fraser populations above and below the Fraser Canyon need to be quantified and clarified.

Source: Information provided by Don McPhail for E-Fauna BC.
Global Distribution

Eastern Pacific: Alaska Bay to Monterey, California, USA. Landlocked in Columbia River drainage, Montana, and perhaps Lake Shasta in California, USA.

Source: FishBase. Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Status Information

Scientific NameOrigin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
Acipenser transmontanusNativeS2No StatusE (Nov 2003)
Acipenser transmontanus pop. 1NativeS1RedE (Nov 2012)
Acipenser transmontanus pop. 2NativeS1RedE (Nov 2012)
Acipenser transmontanus pop. 4NativeS1S2RedT (Nov 2012)
Acipenser transmontanus pop. 5NativeS2RedE (Nov 2012)
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Range and Status Information Links

Additional Photo Sources

Species References

British Columbia Conservation Data Centre. 2010. Comprehensive Report for White Sturgeon. Species and Ecosystem Explorer. Online database. BC Ministry of Environment, Victoria.

Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 p.

McPhail, J. D. 2007. The Freshwater Fishes of British Columbia. University of Alberta Press, Edmonton.

Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman. 1973. Freshwater fishes of Canada. Bulletin 184. Fisheries Research Board of Canada. Ottawa.

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2023-11-28 1:45:06 AM]
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