Anne Wright gets emails from Atlantic sturgeon. Social media for fish, giving her status updates on where they hang out and insight into what they might be up to. Wright is an assistant professor of biology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and she works with VCU biologist Matt Balazik for a program in which the fish are caught, […]
Anne Wright gets emails from Atlantic sturgeon. Social media for fish, giving her status updates on where they hang out and insight into what they might be up to.
Wright is an assistant professor of biology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and she works with VCU biologist Matt Balazik for a program in which the fish are caught, tagged with receivers that communicate with bouys as the fish swim around in the ocean and rivers like the James.
Apparently, male sturgeon like to keep in touch with Wright more than females, but they finally caught one (see the photo she provided). “It was the biggest fish I’ve ever seen…Body around was just enormous,” she said.
The 7-foot, 200-pound fish was the first female caught under the program, and it was full of eggs. She knows because they had to cut a small incision to insert the transmitter and a few of the eggs came out as they cut through the tough skin (sturgeon hold the eggs throughout much of their body, just below the skin).
Atlantic sturgeon are largely a mystery to scientists compared to most fish, she said. They are trying to pinpoint their spawning cycles and migration, trying to figure out net sizes to recommend to commercial fisherman to help avoid catching stur
From the Chesapeake Bay Foundation:
Sturgeon are sometimes described as the “foundation fish,” because they allowed the English to keep their tentative toehold in the New World, said Albert Spells, Virginia Fisheries Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Sturgeon are the animals that saved America,” Spells said. “But for the Atlantic sturgeon, we might be having this conversation in French or Spanish right now. So we stand on the backs of sturgeon.”
- APPEARANCE: These rare dinosaur-era fish have bony plates instead of scales; long sloped heads; and four whiskers (called “barbels”) dangling beneath their snouts.
- LENGTH: Up to 14 feet.
- WEIGHT: Up to 800 lbs.
- AGE: Up to 60 years.
- DIET: Worms, mollusks, crustaceans and insect larvae.
- REPRODUCTION: Atlantic sturgeon spawn every two or three years, after reaching sexual maturity at age 10 or 15. The Atlantic sturgeon’s preferred spawning habit is hard, rocky, river bottoms.
Falls of the James highlights concerning sturgeon, from CFB:
- Fisherman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries massacred the passive, slow-reproducing giants for their eggs, better known as caviar. Dams [there were several in Richmond] blocked their passage upriver, and silt smothered their breeding grounds.
- Some sturgeon researchers worry that an endangered status for Atlantic sturgeon could impede efforts to save the rare animals. An endangered listing could make it harder for researchers to catch and release sturgeon, which they do to extract eggs and sperm, as part of efforts to help the fish reproduce.
- Any overal recovery for Atlantic sturgeon, however, is likely to be a slow one, biologists predict. The fish do not reach sexual maturity until they are 10 to 15 years old and they only spawn every two to three years.
- Boat speed limits in the James River could be considered to protect sturgeon from being killed by boat strikes.
From the Daily Press:
- Atlantic sturgeon levels are thought to be a fraction of what they were when settlers arrived in Jamestown more than 400 years ago — victims of overfishing, loss of habitat, pollution and ship strikes.
- In addition to their eggs, sturgeon were valued for their flesh, which was eaten, and their skin, which was worked as leather for book-binding and clothing.
- Sturgeon are also threatened by pollution, by catch — when they are caught in nets set for other fish — and, possibly, the rise of blue catfish, which eat the same food and grow similar in size.
- Virginia outlawed commercial harvesting of sturgeon in 1974. A nationwide moratorium followed in 1998.