The Sturgeon Are Coming, The Sturgeon Are Coming!

Endangered fish to be released in downtown Chattanooga

Friday, May 7, 2010 - by Richard Simms
<i>The 25 endangered lake sturgeon to be released in downtown Chattanooga will be at least two feet long and have an excellent chance of survival. They will each be tagged with an internal microchip so, if ever recovered, biologists will know exactly when and where they were released.</i
The 25 endangered lake sturgeon to be released in downtown Chattanooga will be at least two feet long and have an excellent chance of survival. They will each be tagged with an internal microchip so, if ever recovered, biologists will know exactly when and where they were released.
- photo by TWRA

Many years ago, long before we knew how to spell TVA, huge lake sturgeon roamed the Tennessee River at will. This prehistoric species lived throughout eastern North America, as far south as the Tennessee River in Alabama. The fish grow to well over five feet long, weighing over a hundred pounds. Due to overfishing and habitat destruction and alteration (primarily TVA dams), lake sturgeon have been reduced to less than 1% of their original numbers, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The last known naturally-occurring lake sturgeon documented by TWRA in the Tennessee River Basin was seen in Fort Loudon Reservoir in 1960. The lake sturgeon is now listed as endangered within Tennessee waters.

TWRA has committed to try and re-establish lake sturgeon in the Tennessee River system, and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is at the heart of that effort. The restoration begins with the collection of sturgeon eggs provided by northern states. The eggs are then hatched and distributed as fry to three other hatcheries to be grown out to a minimum of 5 inches before they are released. The Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute is one of those hatcheries and in some cases, the Aquarium's research team can grow larger sturgeon. These larger fish have a significantly higher chances of survival when released into the wild.

The Tennessee Aquarium has received relatively little exposure here at home for their efforts however. That's because to date, the young sturgeon they raise have been released far away from Chattanooga, in the French Broad River, a tributary to the Tennessee River near Knoxville. That's where biologists have determined the young lake sturgeon have a much better chance to survive and reproduce.

Next week however, the Aquarium staff and TWRA biologists will be joined by students from Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy for a special sturgeon release in Chattanooga.

It happens Thursday at 11 am, rain or shine, beneath the Walnut St. Bridge at Coolidge Park. The students will help biologists tag 25 lake sturgeon, 2 - 3 feet long, and then release them into the Tennessee River.

Aquarium spokesperson Thom Benson says this release is a one-time effort in Chattanooga, primarily to give youngsters the chance to learn about a unique environmental resource ... and to educate the public about the Aquarium's efforts.

"The Aquarium and TWRA recognize the value of media coverage," said Benson. "It’s a great program and keeping it visible ultimately helps fund the future success of this, and other conservation programs. I honestly believe that if people can feel a connection to nature, they’re going to be more passionate about helping protect and preserve it. The Calvin Donaldson students will become big advocates for the natural world. I hope their enthusiasm will rub off on others."

A release of a mere 25 sturgeon into the Tennessee River is really a drop in the bucket. But the larger-sized, hardy fish have an excellent chance of survival. It doesn't mean they will stay in the immediate area however. Benson said that some of sturgeon released in the French Broad, north of Knoxville, have been recovered as far south as North Alabama.

TVA dams, which generally prevent fishes free movement up and down the river, have been cited as one reason for the decline of sturgeon and some other species. Biologists believe however that if enough sturgeon can be restored to the river system, they can sustain a self-perpetuating population. To date a total of 90,000 sturgeon fingerlings have been released into the Tennessee and Cumberland River systems.

Of course a release of 2 - 3 foot sturgeon in downtown Chattanooga means there is at least some chance that a fisherman will catch one.

IT IS ILLEGAL TO KEEP A STURGEON!

They are considered an endangered species in Tennessee and captured sturgeon must be immediately released. Mere possession is against the law.

However, if you observe a sturgeon, even a dead one, please contact TWRA. Please make note of exactly where and when the fish was caught, its approximate size, and how it was caught. TWRA provides a Lake Sturgeon Certificate to anglers who have caught and released lake sturgeon. You can contact TWRA in Nashville at (615) 781-6575 or at 1-800-262-6704.

Lake Stugeon are identified by the sharp, bony plates along their backs and sides, a shark-like tail, a sucker-like mouth, and four barbels or "whiskers" just in front of their mouths. Like sharks, sturgeon don't have bony support and their internal organs can be damaged when flopping around out of water.

Benson says in one case when TWRA biologists were questioning a fisherman to confirm that he had indeed caught a lake sturgeon, the man told them he knew it was a sturgeon "Because I touched one at the Tennessee Aquarium.”


Turkey Hunters Reminded Of Harvest Check-In Procedures

With spring turkey hunting season quickly approaching, sportsmen are reminded of the various methods to check in their birds. All harvested turkeys must be checked in by the end of the calendar day. Turkeys can be checked in on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s website or on the “TWRA On the Go” smartphone app or at a check station. For sportsmen who do not have ... (click for more)

Free Outdoors GA App Is Updated For Hunters

Almost one year since its debut, the free Outdoors GA app receives a new update allowing hunters to check their harvest without needing cell service, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division. “We continue to be pleased with this free mobile app that gives both novice and seasoned outdoor enthusiasts’ essential information in the palm ... (click for more)

State Says "Beef" Between 2 Bloods Gangs Started Over A Female And Led Eventually To Shootings At College Hill Courts

The state presented testimony on Monday about a feud between two Bloods gangs that allegedly eventually led to a 16-year-old shooting up a unit at College Hill Courts - killing one woman, injuring another, leaving a child paralyzed and injuring a member of the other Bloods gang. A city police gang expert said the bitter rift between the Athens Park Bloods based on the Southside ... (click for more)

Search On For Chad Cook, Missing Since Early Monday Morning After Going Dirt Bike Riding On Walden's Ridge

Walden's Ridge Emergency Services has been assisting the Sequatchie County Sheriff's Office searching for a missing person from Hamilton County since 10:30 a.m. Monday. Chad Cook, 38, was last heard from by family members at 2 a.m. Monday. Family members reported to Sequatchie County Sheriff's Office personnel around 2 a.m. that he, along with two males and one female, were ... (click for more)

Slaxxon Regret - And Response

Back in the seventies my three oldest brothers had a buddy named Steve Slack. “Slack” was a star soccer player at Baylor and he grew up on Lookout Mountain, which is where I grew up. He and Jimmy, Henry and Bill went to the University of Virginia where they were roommates in an old, beat up house that was painted pink. Naturally, the place became known as the “Pink Palace” but lest ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Oh Yes, I Loved West

One of my most beloved friends died early Saturday morning at the age of 67. Then again, West Oehmig’s only brother – King – died a couple of years ago at 63 so it wasn’t by happenstance I remembered Abraham Lincoln’s famous line: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” Here are two brothers who lived larger than any other pair I can ... (click for more)