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The white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus, meaning “sturgeon beyond the mountains”), also known as the Pacific sturgeon, Oregon sturgeon, Columbia sturgeon, Sacramento sturgeon, and California white sturgeon, is a sturgeon (a fish of the family Acipenseridae) which lives along the west coast of North America from the Aleutian Islands to Central California.
It is the largest freshwater fish in North America and is the third largest species of sturgeon, after the Beluga and the Kaluga. The white sturgeon is known to reach a maximum size of 816 kg (1,798 lb) and 6.1 m (20.1 ft).
Sturgeon is the common name used for some 26 species of fish in the family Acipenseridae, including the genera Acipenser, Huso, Scaphirhynchus and Pseudoscaphirhynchus. The term includes over 20 species commonly referred to as sturgeon and several closely related species that have distinct common names, notably sterlet, kaluga and beluga. Collectively, the family is also known as the True Sturgeons. Sturgeon is sometimes used more exclusively to refer to the species in the two best-known genera; Acipenser and Huso.
One of the oldest families of bony fish in existence, sturgeon are native to subtropical, temperate and sub-Arctic rivers, lakes and coastlines of Eurasia and North America. They are distinctive for their elongated bodies, lack of scales, and occasional great size: Sturgeons ranging from 7–12 feet (2-3½ m) in length are common, and some species grow up to 18 feet (5.5 m). Most sturgeons are anadromous bottom-feeders, spawning upstream and feeding in river deltas and estuaries. While some are entirely freshwater, very few venture into the open ocean beyond near coastal areas.
Several species of sturgeons are harvested for their roe, which is made into caviar—a luxury good which makes some sturgeons pound for pound the most valuable of all harvested fish. Because they are slow-growing and mature very late in life, they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and to other threats, including pollution and habitat fragmentation. Most species of sturgeons are currently considered vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.