Recently, commercial aquaculture farms in Northern California have exposed gravid, cultured white sturgeon females to cold water (12 ?? 1??C) throughout the late phase of vitellogenesis and ovarian follicle maturation resulting in improved ovulation rates and egg quality. However, the optimum timing for transfer of broodfish to the cold water and the capacity of transferred broodfish to maintain reproductive competence over an extended time in cold water had not been evaluated. Gravid white sturgeon females that have been raised at water temperatures of 16-20??C were transported to either cold water (12 ?? 1??C; Group 1) in November 1997 or maintained in ambient water temperatures (10-19??C; Group 2) until early spring. In March 1998, half of the fish in Group 2 had regressed ovaries, but the remaining females had intact ovarian follicles and were transported to the cold water. Ovarian follicles and blood were collected from females until they reached the stage of spawning readiness (determined by germinal vesicle position and an oocyte maturation assay) or underwent ovarian regression. Exposure of gravid sturgeon females to ambient water temperatures (14.5 ?? 2.3??C, mean ?? S.D.) from October to March led to a decrease in plasma sex steroids and a high incidence of ovarian regression in fish with a more advanced stage of oocyte development. Transfer of females with intact ovarian follicles to cold water (12 ?? 1??C) in the fall or early spring resulted in normal ovarian development in the majority of females. Holding females in cold water does not seem to override their endogenous reproductive rhythms but extends their capacity to maintain oocyte maturational competence over a longer period of time. A temperature-sensitive phase in ovarian development may occur during the transition from vitellogenic growth to oocyte maturation, and the degree and timing of sensitivity to environmental temperature are dependent on the female's endogenous reproductive rhythm. ?? 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All Rights reserved.