Traditional Native Words for Green Sturgeon:
Karuk – Ishxikihara
Yurok – Kahkah
Hoopa – l’yokah
Your first encounter with a full-grown green sturgeon can be a little scary. These behemoths can grow to over 7 feet long, weighing as much as 350 pounds. Their whiskered face and armored back plates no doubt inspired the leviathans found in H.P. Lovecraft’s stories or a recent session of your kid’s Dungeons & Dragons game. A source of lore and culture, green sturgeon have been a building block for life in the Klamath Basin since the very beginning.
But don’t worry, these ancient fish are gentle giants and a fascinating part of the Klamath River ecosystem.
Green Sturgeon have been around for over 200 million years. Their first neighbors were the likes of Tyrannosaurus Rex, roaming the land above. They evolved before fish had bones, thus sturgeons are cartilaginous like sharks. Sturgeon use their whiskers and shovel-shaped snout to root about along the bottom of the river or ocean to eat small shellfish, insects, worms, and sometimes dead fish.
Green Sturgeon live most of their lives in the ocean, but spawn in a few select rivers such as the Klamath. Juveniles spend up to three years before leaving the river. They don’t return to spawn until they are 13-15 years old. After that, they may return to spawn every couple of years. In the Klamath, Green sturgeon can migrate upriver as far as Ishi Pishi Falls and several miles up the Salmon River.
While Green Sturgeon eggs (or caviar) are not as sought after as that of their European counterparts, it is a local delicacy. Many families in the Lower Klamath Basin bake bread with sturgeon eggs worked into the flour as a special treat. Sturgeon meat is similarly prized and can be grilled, smoked, and canned in a manner similar to salmon. The bony back plates, called scutes, are often represented in basket designs, jewelry, tattoos, and other native art forms.
These amazing creatures will thrive with the restoration of the Klamath River and, because of that, their storied history has many more chapters yet to be written.