Biologists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) will release 2,600 lake sturgeon on Thursday. This reintroduction will take place near Knoxville at the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge. This location on the French Broad River has been identified as favorable habitat for this species, Acipenser fulvescens, which is listed as endangered within Tennessee’s waters.
Students from a fifth grade class at Gap Creek Elementary in Knoxville are very excited to help with this release. They have been caring for “Spike,” a juvenile lake sturgeon since the beginning of the school year. Each day the Gap Creek students record data about the fish including feedings, water temperature, pH, ammonia levels, length and behavioral observations. These hands-on classroom activities and assisting with this release increases their understanding of freshwater conservation. They also discover how the health of the river and human health are connected.
The Tennessee Aquarium and its partners have reintroduced more than 125,000 lake sturgeon to the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers since 1998. The goal of the long-term “Saving the Sturgeon” program is to restore a self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon in Tennessee. So far this effort has proven very successful with anglers reporting these fish downstream in Alabama and Kentucky. Biologists have also been encouraged by recent surveys to monitor the population between Knoxville and Chattanooga.
Of this next “year class” of lake sturgeon to be released, 600 came to the Tennessee Aquarium as babies that averaged less than one inch in length. They have been growing to a releaseable size of nearly five inches, with some already reaching one foot in length. These impressive fish are true river giants. Some may grow to more than eight feet in length. Lake sturgeon have also been known to live nearly 150 years, feeding mainly on bottom dwelling crayfishes, mussels, aquatic insect larvae and small fishes.
The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI) is the conservation and research arm of the Tennessee Aquarium, a non-profit 501 (c)(3) institution. As leaders in freshwater conservation, TNACI’s mission is to conserve and restore native aquatic animals and their habitats within the richly bio-diverse Southeast United States.
The “Saving the Sturgeon” working partners are:
Conservation Fisheries, Inc.
Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute
Tennessee Tech University
Tennessee Valley Authority
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
University of Tennessee Knoxville
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
U.S. Geological Survey
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
World Wildlife Fund