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Characteristics of Pallid Sturgeon
Anglers must look closely to distinguish between pallid and shovelnose sturgeon. The law requires that all pallid sturgeon be released.

Sturgeon Differences Shovelnose Sturgeon. Pallid Sturgeon (must be released)
Shovelnose Sturgeon. Shovelnose Sturgeon

The pallid sturgeon is a large, slow-growing fish of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers which has survived for over 200 million years. Little is known about the species, except that their numbers have probably declined over the past 30 years.

The historic range of the pallid extends from the Missouri River near Fort Benton to the mouth of the Mississippi River and includes some of the larger, more turbid tributaries of the system. Records suggest they were most abundant in the Missouri River in the Dakotas. Today, Montana may be their last stronghold, due mostly to the relatively unaltered stretches of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

Anglers who fished the Missouri and Yellowstone years ago tell of catching several pallids per day. Photographs taken in the 1950s and 60s show daily catches of up to six or seven pallids, but today they are rarely hooked. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) compiled a list of all known pallid sightings for the past three decades. They found 500 sightings in the 1960s, 209 in the '70s, and only 56 in the '80s. The USFWS classified these prehistoric bottom-dwelling fish as endangered under the Endangered Species Act on October 9,1990.

As a result, Montana fishing regulations require that any sturgeon over 40 inches (regardless of species) and all pallid sturgeon must be released. This regulation is intended to protect the Pallid Sturgeon, many of which grow to 40 inches or more.

You can help us preserve this historically important species by learning to recognize the difference between pallid and shovelnose sturgeon. The pallid sturgeon may be endangered, but endangered means there still is time! If you do catch a pallid sturgeon, please notify your nearest regional Fish, Wildlife & Parks office.

Barbel differences in pallid and shovelnose sturgeon. Barbel differences in pallid and shovelnose sturgeon.