Efforts to save North America’s largest freshwater fish have failed. Work carried out by the US Fish and Wildlife Service over the past two years has proved to be unsuccessful, leaving the toothless giant fish hurtling towards extinction.
The only hope lies in a final try to save the fish by sending more water plunging down a river to encourage the fish to spawn in the wild.
The Kootenai River white sturgeon, prehistoric and identifiable by its big head and armour-like scales reaches lengths of up to 19 feet and can weigh around 1,000 pounds.
Along the stretch of the Kootenai, lives less than 500 of the bottom feeders – and records indicate that they have not spawned successfully for the last 35 years.
Libby Dam, a hydroelectric facility in Montana is the problem. The dam, built in 1974, put a stop to periodic flooding of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, which also meant that high water flows, which triggered the sturgeon to go upriver and spawn were also stopped.
Years of litigation resulted in the federal government finally agreeing to alter the running of the dam and mimic historical water flows. However, this seems to have not worked – with relevant officials saying they would go ahead and spill more water over the dam in spring. This would be the last possible chance of saving the prehistoric sturgeons, which could otherwise go extinct.
Jason Flory, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, “We are still kind of tinkering around at the bottom end of what historically used to occur. However, the spring flows that were pre-Libby Dam were what flooded Bonners Ferry. You just do not do that, you do not flood towns.”
There were around 10,000 Kootenai sturgeons before the dam was built. Researchers say they are unsure if the plan of action would actually work, as it takes around 20-30 years for white sturgeon to mature in order to spawn.