Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"White Sturgeon"
Includes ... White Sturgeon ... Bonneville Fish Hatchery and Sturgeon Center ... The Golden Age of Postcards ...
Image, 2005, Sturgeon, Bonneville Fish Hatchery, click to enlarge
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Sturgeon, Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Image taken June 19, 2005.


White Sturgeon ...
The "White Sturgeon" is the largest freshwater fish in North America. It lives along the west coast of the United States between the Aleutian Islands to Central California, with the largest number being in the Columbia River Basin. Mature Sturgeon can reach 20 feet in length, weigh between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds, and can live for 100 years. The scientific name for the White Surgeon is acipenser transmontanus; acipenser being an old world name meaning sturgeon and transmontanus meaning beyond the mountains.

Bonneville Fish Hatchery and Sturgeon Viewing Center ...
The Bonneville Fish Hatchery is located just downsteam of Bonneville Dam, and uses the waters of Tanner Creek. In 1998, the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation along with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, built the Sturgeon Viewing and Interpretive Center at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Visitors can view sturgeon and trout through an underwater window as they swim in a natural environment.
[More Fish Hatchery]

Image, 2005, Sturgeon and Trout, Bonneville Fish Hatchery, click to enlarge
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Sturgeon and Trout, Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Image taken June 19, 2005.
Image, 2005, Sturgeon face, Bonneville Fish Hatchery, click to enlarge
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Sturgeon head, Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Image taken June 19, 2005.


Description ...
From the Pacific States Marine Commission website (2006):
"... the white sturgeon is a primitive, bottom dwelling fish. It is characterized by its large body size, large head and mouth, and long cylindrical body. It has four barbels located in front of its large, wide and toothless mouth, located on the bottom (ventral) side of its head. It has no scales, but "scutes" along its body for protection. Scutes are actually large modified scales, that serve as a type of armor or protection. White sturgeon have 11-14 scutes in front of their single dorsal fin, no scutes behind the dorsal, 38-48 scutes on the side, and 9-12 bottom (ventral) scutes. Dorsal color is dark to light gray, pale olive, or gray-brown. The white sturgeon's ventral or bottom surface is white. The scutes are lighter than the body in color, and the fins are dusky to opaque gray. ..."

Image, 2005, Young Sturgeon, Bonneville Fish Hatchery, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Young Sturgeon, Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Image taken June 19, 2005.


Lewis and Clark and "A Great Number of Sturgeon" ...
On the Washington shore of the Columbia River along the Steamboat Slough Road is located an information sign about Lewis and Clark and the White Sturgeon in the Columbia River. Lewis and Clark wrote about the sturgeon they viewed on Puget Island.
"... after dinner we passed the river to a large Island and continued our rout allong the side of the same about a mile when we arrived at a Cathlahmah fishing cam of one lodge; here we found 3 men 2 women and a couple of boys, who from appearances had remained here some time for the purpose of taking sturgeon, which they do by trolling.     they had ten or douzen very fine sturgeon which had not been long taken. ..." [Lewis, March 25, 1806]

"... Tuesday March 25th     This morning early a Canoe with some of the Natives of the Clatsop Tribe came to where our Canoes lay, their Canoe was loaded with fish & Wapatoes roots. the wind & tide being against us, We had to delay at our encampment, until 1 o'clock P. M. at which time we proceeded on our voyage, and met two Canoes with Indians, who were descending the River. We continued on, & crossed over to an Island, on which we found a fishing Camp of the Cath-le-mah Indians, These Indians had a great number of Sturgeon laying tied at the Edge of the water, which were fastened to Stakes drove into the ground. ..." [Whitehouse, March 25, 1806]


Image, 2000, Information Sign, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
"A Great Number of Sturgeon", Lewis and Clark information kiosk. View from the Julia Butler Hansen Wildlife Refuge, Steamboat Slough Road. Welch Island is in the distance. Image taken October 13, 2007.
Image, 2000, Information Sign, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
"A Great Number of Sturgeon", Lewis and Clark information sign. View from the Julia Butler Hansen Wildlife Refuge, Steamboat Slough Road. Image taken October 13, 2007.
Image, 2000, Information Sign, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Detail, "A Great Number of Sturgeon", Lewis and Clark information sign. View from the Julia Butler Hansen Wildlife Refuge, Steamboat Slough Road. Image taken October 13, 2007.


Commercial Industry ...
From the U.S. Geological Survey, Biology Division website (2006):
"... The Columbia River has supported important commercial, treaty, and recreational white sturgeon fisheries. A commercial fishery that began in the 1880's peaked in 1892 when 2.5 million kg (5.5 million lb) were harvested (Craig and Hacker 1940). By 1899 the population had been severely depleted, and annual harvest was very low until the early 1940's, but the population recovered enough by the late 1940's that the commercial fishery expanded. A 1.8-m (6-ft) maximum size restriction was enacted to prevent another population collapse. Total harvest doubled in the 1970's and again in the 1980's because of increased treaty and recreational fisheries. From 1983 to 1994, 15 substantial regulatory changes were implemented on the mainstem Columbia River downstream from McNary Dam as a result of increased fishing. Columbia River white sturgeon are still economically important. Recreational, commercial, and treaty fisheries in the Columbia River downstream from McNary Dam were valued at $10.1 million in 1992 (Tracy 1993). ..."


"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. Today the Penny Postcard has become a snapshot of history.

Penny Postcard, Sturgeon Fishing, Columbia River, 1899, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing, 1899. Penny Postcard, Copyright 1899, "Sturgeon Fishing on the Columbia River, Oregon.". Published by Detroit Photographic Company. Card #5223. Undivided back. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Sturgeon Fishing, Columbia River, 1899
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Sturgeon Fishing, Columbia River, 1899: Penny Postcard, Copyright 1899, "Sturgeon on the Columbia River, Oregon.". Published by Detroit Photographic Company. Card #5222. Undivided back. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Sturgeon, Columbia River, ca.1910, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Columbia River Sturgeon, ca.1910. Penny Postcard, Postmarked 1910, "Columbia Riveer Sturgeon, Weight 928 lbs.". Published by Portland Post Card Co., Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash. Printed in Germany. Card #7259. Card is postmarked June 10, 1910. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Sturgeon, Columbia River, ca.1910, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Columbia River Sturgeon, ca.1910. Penny Postcard, ca.1910, "Sturgeon caught in the Columbia River.". Published by Portland Post Card Co., Portland, Oregon. Card #P1054. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Lewis, February 24, 1806 ...
This evening we were visited by Comowooll the Clatsop Chief [Chief Coboway] and 12 men women & children of his nation. Drewyer came a passenger in their canoe, and brought with him two dogs. The chief and his party had brought for sail a Sea Otter skin some hats, stergeon [White Sturgeon] and a [s]pecies of small fish [eulachon, or candle fish] which now begin to run, and are taken in great quantities in the Columbia R. about 40 miles above us [Cowlitz River] by means of skiming or scooping nets. on this page I have drawn the likeness of them as large as life; it as perfect as I can make it with my pen and will serve to give a general idea of the fish. the rays of the fins are boney but not sharp tho' somewhat pointed. the small fin on the back next to the tail has no rays of bone being a thin membranous pellicle. the fins next to the gills have eleven rays each. those of the abdomen have eight each, those of the pinna-ani are 20 and 2 half formed in front. that of the back has eleven rays. all the fins are of a white colour. the back is of a bluish duskey colour and that of the lower part of the sides and belley is of a silvery white. no spots on any part. the first bone of the gills next behid the eye is of a bluis cast, and the second of a light goald colour nearly white. the puple of the eye is blak and the iris of a silver white. the underjaw exceeds the uper; and the mouth opens to great extent, folding like that of the herring. it has no teeth. the abdomen is obtuse and smooth; in this differing from the herring, shad anchovey &c of the Malacopterygious Order & Class Clupea, to which however I think it more nearly allyed than to any other altho' it has not their accute and serrate abdomen and the under jaw exceeding the upper. the scales of this little fish are so small and thin that without minute inspection you would suppose they had none. they are filled with roes of a pure white colour and have scarcely any perceptable alimentary duct. I find them best when cooked in Indian stile, which is by roasting a number of them together on a wooden spit without any previous preperation whatever. they are so fat they require no additional sauce, and I think them superior to any fish I ever tasted, even more delicate and lussious than the white fish of the lakes which have heretofore formed my standart of excellence among the fishes. I have heard the fresh anchovey much extolled but I hope I shall be pardoned for beleiving this quite as good. the bones are so soft and fine that they form no obstruction in eating this fish. we purchased all the articles which these people brought us; we suffered these people to remain all night as it rained, the wind blew most violently and they had their women and children with them; the latter being a sure pledge of their pacific dispositions. the Sturgeon which they brough us was also good of it's kind. we determine to send a party up the river to procure some of those fish, and another in some direction to hunt Elk as soon as the weather will permit.






Clark, March 25, 1806 ...
Last night and this morning are cool wend hard a head and tide going out, after an early brackfast we proceeded on [from their camp near Aldrich Point] about 4 miles and came too on the south side to worm and dry our Selves a little. Soon after we had landed two Indians Came from a War kia cum village on the opposite Side with 2 dogs and a fiew Wappato to Sell neither of which we bought. Som Clatsops passed down in a Canoe loaded with fish and Wappato. as the wind was hard a head and tide against us we Concluded to delay untill the return of the tide which we expected at 1 oClock, at which hour we Set out ...     we crossed over to an Island [Puget Island] on which was a Cath lahmah fishing Camp of one Lodge; here we found <one> 3 man two woman and a couple of boys who must have for Some time for the purpose of taking Sturgeon which they do by trolling. they had 10 or 12 very fine Sturgeon which had not been long taken; [White Sturgeon] ...     we remained at this place about half an hour and then Continued our rout. the winds in the evening was verry hard, it was with Some dificuelty that we Could find a Spot proper for an encampment, the Shore being a Swamp for Several miles back; at length late in the evening opposit to the place we had encamped on the 6th of Novr. last [near Cape Horn, Wahkiakum County]; we fouond the enterance of a Small Creek [one of the many mouths/sloughs/drainages of the Clatskanie River system, near Wallace Island and Wallace Slough] which offered us a Safe harbour from the Winds and Encamped. the Ground was low and moist tho' we obtained a tolerable encampment. here we found another party of Cathlahmahs about 10 in number, who had established a temporary residence for the purpose of fishing and takeing Seal ...     here we found Drewyer and the 2 Fields' who had been Seperated from us Since Morning; they had passed on the North Side of the large Island [Puget Island] which was much nearest. the bottom lands are Covered with a Species of Arspine, the Growth with a broad leaf which resembles ash except the leaf. the under brush red willow, broad leafed Willow, Seven bark, Goose berry, Green bryor, and the larged leaf thorn; the latter is Now in blume, the nativs inform us that it bears a <leaf> fruit about an Inch in diamieter which is a good to eate. the red willow and 7 bark begin to put foth their leaves. The green bryor which I have before mentioned retains leaves all winter. made 15 Miles.





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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources: Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation website, 2006; Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission website, 2006; U.S. Geological Survey Biology website, 2006.

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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February 2011