Southern blot analysis was used to quantify the extent of mtDNA D-loop length variation in two populations of white sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus. Over 42% of individuals were heteroplasmic for up to six different mtDNA length variants attributable to varying copy numbers of an 82-bp repeat sequence. Chi-square analyses revealed that the frequencies of length genotypes and the incidence of heteroplasmy were significantly different between Fraser and Columbia River sturgeon populations but not between restriction site haplotypes. Heteroplasmic fish have, on average, higher copy number than homoplasmic fish. Forty-five of 101 homoplasmic individuals carry only a single copy of the repeat, while none of the 73 heteroplasmic fish has the single repeat as the predominant variant. On the basis of differences in frequency distributions of copy number within and between fish, we suggest that (1) heteroplasmy is maintained by high recurrent mutation of multiple copy genomes, favoring increased copy number and (2) the mutation pressure toward higher copy number heteroplasmy is partially offset by selection to reduced genome size and segregation to the homoplasmic condition.