Giant sturgeon stretching over 10-feet long (3 metres) were once a relatively common sight in North American rivers. These monstrous fish would trawl riverbeds and lake bottoms, some having spent over 100 years foraging in the waterways of the New World. But overfishing and habitat destruction have pushed the species to the brink. Yves Bisson, a fisherman who runs sturgeon fishing trips on the Fraser River and its tributaries, recently enjoyed a glimpse back in time when he hauled a 600-pound colossus out of the Canadian waters before fitting it with an acoustic tag and releasing it back into the depths.

"I have landed over 22,000 sturgeon on my fishing charters and this was one I'll never forget," Bisson told Storyful about the recent catch. Like all white sturgeon that Bisson and his clients catch, the enormous fish was measured and tagged as part of an ongoing, volunteer-driven monitoring and assessment programme that aims to provide critical data to help fuel sturgeon conservation initiatives. The Fraser river in British Columbia is one of the last strongholds for these prehistoric bottom-feeders, which have declined significantly in number across their range in lakes and rivers along North America's West coast. 

In the last century or so, overfishing, the construction of hydroelectric dams, dyking and drainage projects, poor water quality, as well as competition with humans for food resources have heavily affected sturgeon populations. It's unknown exactly how many of these giants are left roaming the murky depths, but the number of large breeding-age individuals may be dangerously low across much of their range. Conservation efforts on the Fraser River have helped stabilise populations, but the numbers are still nowhere near where they once were. 

Armour-plated relics from the past, white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) have maintained their imposing appearance for eons, barely changing in structure for millions of years. These scaleless, toothless behemoths are equipped with rows of bony shields for protection and a protrusible mouth for hoovering up larval insects, crayfish or a host of other animal matter that's harvested from the bottoms of rivers and lakes.

It takes white sturgeon an unusually long time to reach sexual maturity and it may be 25 years before a female sturgeon is ready to lay eggs – something that only happens every 4 to 10 years. To make up for this slow maturation date, sturgeons deposit a monumental number of eggs at each spawning – sometimes a million or more.

Bisson estimates that his recent catch, which was safely released back into the Fraser River, could be somewhere between 70 and 100 years old. Let's hope this ancient giant lives out the rest of its days in peace.

@yvesbissonsturgeonco Scenic escape 💦 #fish #fishing #slomo #waterworld #amazing #beautiful #fyp #fishwithyves #fraserriver #canada ♬ Reflections on a Hero - Trevor Morris

Header image: Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife