Montana State University

New York Times picks up pallid sturgeon research by MSU scientist

July 26, 2016 -- MSU News Service

MSU graduate student Luke Holmquist releases a 19-year-old hatchery-reared female pallid sturgeon. Holmquist, along with MSU Affiliate Professor Chris Guy and Molly Webb, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are studying the reproductive ecology of hatchery-reared pallid sturgeon to compare their behavior with the few remaining wild pallid sturgeon. Photo by Christopher Guy.

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BOZEMAN -- The New York Times has included research by Christopher Guy, affiliate professor in Montana State University’s Department of Ecology in the College of Letters and Science, in a July 25 article about the threats facing the pallid sturgeon.

The piece, titled "A Fish Outlived the Dinosaurs. Can It Outlast a Dam?" references Guy’s research detailing for the first time the biological mechanism that has caused the long decline of pallid sturgeon in the Missouri River and led to its being placed on the endangered species list 25 years ago.

Pallid sturgeon come from a genetic line that has lived on this planet for tens of millions of years, yet it has been decades since biologists have documented any of the enormous fish successfully producing young that survive to adulthood in the upper Missouri River basin.

In 2015, Guy was lead author on a paper published in the journal Fisheries showing that oxygen-depleted dead zones between dams in the upper Missouri River are directly linked with the failure of endangered pallid sturgeon hatched embryos that survive to adulthood.

Guy, who is also the assistant unit leader with the USGS Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, called the findings a major breakthrough from a conservation perspective.

The New York Times article written by Joanna Klein includes Guy’s research as part of its reporting on how pallid sturgeon are stuck between Montana’s Intake Diversion and Fort Peck dams, preventing them from traveling upriver far enough to ensure hatched embryos will fully develop.

The article highlights the legal dispute between government agencies and wildlife protection groups with differing ideas on the best way to allow the fish to freely swim along the river and still provide water for the 55,000 acres of farmland irrigated by the Intake Diversion Dam.

One option championed by the Bureau of Reclamation, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers is to replace the Intake Diversion Dam with one that would allow the sturgeons to get past the dam via bypass channels, a proposal that costs $60 million and one that some scientists say won't work, Klein said.

A second option, proposed by Defenders of Wildlife, is to remove the dam and replace the irrigation system with pumps, Klein said, noting the project would cost anywhere from $80 million to $138 million.

Last year, biologists and conservationists succeeded in getting a temporary block on dam construction while the agencies conduct a more thorough study of the options and their possible effects on the pallid sturgeon, Klein said.

Federal agencies are inviting the public to review and comment on the Pallid Sturgeon Passage and Entrainment Project through July 28.

Christopher Guy, cguy@montana.edu or (406) 994-3491

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