White Sturgeon: North America’s Largest Fish Lives Here

by | SOP 14

with Donella Miller

Lecture Description:

White Sturgeon are North America’s largest fish and can live to 100 years old! These prehistoric fish appeared in the fossil record 200 million ago, but unlike most fish, white sturgeon don’t have scales, they have skin like sandpaper. Their body is comprised of five bony plates called “scutes” that run from their gills all the way to their tail. And instead of tastebuds inside their mouths, white sturgeon have tastebuds outside their mouths! These help them locate food as they move along the ocean or river floor. Sturgeon used to grow as large as 20 feet long and weigh up to 1,800 pounds, but in contemporary times, those numbers are closer to 10 feet and 400 pounds. Part of this change is the result of shortened life spans due to predation, overfishing, and hydropower dams.
White sturgeon are a native species to the Columbia River basin with unique ecological and cultural significance to this place. They are an important food source for local tribes and a prized catch for commercial and sport fishermen. In 2008, Yakama Nation Fisheries (YNF) established the first dedicated sturgeon hatchery in the Columbia River Basin. Prior to its construction, the only other White Sturgeon recovery hatcheries were located in the Sacramento and Kootenai Basins. This ground-breaking work was led by Donella Miller, who worked as the YNF White Sturgeon Project Manager. Previously sturgeon management and recovery efforts were limited to stock assessment surveys and a small trawl and haul program in the 1990s.  Join Donella as she shares the cultural and ecological importance of this unique fish. *Donella will be bringing live, juvenile white sturgeon as part of the in-person presentation.

Speaker Bio:

Donella Miller is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, as well as a descendent of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Blackfeet Nation. She has over 29 years of experience in Columbia River fisheries resource management, including her current role as Fishery Science Manager for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). Prior to her work with CRITFC, Donella was the Yakama Nation Fisheries (YNF) Program Manager and also served as the YNF White Sturgeon Project Manager. 

Donella earned a Bachelor of Science in Fisheries Resources from the University of Idaho and during her time in Idaho worked at the University of Idaho Aquaculture Research Institute Genetics Lab and the Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station. She trained at several White Sturgeon production facilities including the Kootenai Tribal Sturgeon Hatchery and the Upper-Columbia Sturgeon Program. 

Growing up on the Yakama Reservation, Donella learned the importance of maintaining her culture while recognizing the need to use her education to serve her people and protect the tribal way of life, first foods, and natural resources that are the heart of the Yakama People. These values were instilled in her at a young age by her grandparents and tribal elders and have led her to value the knowledge of her ancestors. This balance of Yakama cultural knowledge and values paired with a non-Native Western perspective enables her to best manage natural resources for future generations.