1,000 Juvenile Lake Sturgeon Released Back Into Ancestral Waters

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - by Thom Benson

After a summer spent growing big and strong on a diet of bloodworms, the latest class of Lake Sturgeon finally graduated on Saturday, from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. Their release into the Tennessee River further swells the ranks of more than 179,000 Lake Sturgeon that have been reintroduced to the Tennessee River since 2000.

 

This weekend, representatives from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute traveled to Kingston, Tennessee, where they gently slipped 1,000 juvenile Lake Sturgeon into the Clinch River during John Muir Fest, an even named for the self-same conservationist credited as “the Father of the National Parks.” The 337-mile Clinch River flows southwest from Tazewell, Virginia, to Kingston, where it joins the Tennessee River. 

 

This release marked the first for this location.

Previously, juvenile Lake Sturgeon raised at the Aquarium have been released in the French Broad River just before it joins the Holston River to form the Tennessee. The new location was chosen based on a study by Todd Amacker — a graduate student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville — who found that Lake Sturgeon in the Watts Bar Reservoir were healthier due to access to a more plentiful food supply.

 

“Prey availability is much, much higher and much better quality in Watts Bar,” said Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute Reintroduction Biologist Meredith Harris. “You can tell, when you pull the fish out of there; they’re big and healthy — fat and happy.”

 

This year, the Aquarium also took additional steps to accurately track the Lake Sturgeons’ movement throughout the river system. Coded wire tags measuring a couple of millimeters in length were inserted into the rostrum (snout) of the Lake Sturgeon. During future sampling efforts, researchers will be able to use a wand-like device to detect the presence or absence of tags in collected fish to determine their initial release location.

 

“That will help us determine if they’re able to move upstream through dams as well as downstream,” Ms. Harris said. “That’s an important factor in determining if this is going to be a successful conservation program. If the fish can’t navigate the locks — if they remain isolated from each other because of these dams — then that’s going to cause some problems.”

 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Tennessee Lake Sturgeon Working Group, which was founded by a group of scientists, including those at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (then called the Southeast Aquatic Research Institute). The Working Group’s inception in 1998 was an attempt to right an ecological wrong by bringing the Lake Sturgeon back to its native waters.

 

By the 1970s, Lake Sturgeon had all but disappeared from the Tennessee River due to overfishing, low water quality and the disruption of the waterway through damming, says Dr. Bernie Kuhajda, the Aquarium’s manager of science programs.

 

“Lake Sturgeon are an important part of large river ecosystems,” Dr. Kuhajda said. “Having one of those large predators missing from the river system disrupts the natural balance.”

 

By the 1990s, legislative measures such as the Clean Water Act of 1972, protection of Lake Sturgeon as a state-endangered species and dam improvements implemented by TVA had improved conditions in the Tennessee. The Lake Sturgeon Working Group coalesced because its founders determined that, with a little help from conservationists, the river could once more support a self-sustaining Lake Sturgeon population.

 

“The project reaching this age really shows commitment with funds and expertise and energy and interest from all of the partners that are required to make this work,” Dr. Kuhajda said. “Over the last 20 years, this process has involved literally hundreds of people. For something this big to go on for so long, you have to have people who think this is a pretty cool and worthwhile thing to do.”

 

At its inception, the Lake Sturgeon restoration effort was solely focused on the Tennessee River. Since the Working Group’s formation, organizations in other states have joined the effort, which now encompasses even more of the species’ historic range, including the Coosa River system in Georgia and Alabama, the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky and the French Broad River in North Carolina.

 

Despite nearly two decades of annual releases, however, the overall success of the program has yet to be determined. Lake Sturgeon have been recorded living for more than 150 years, and as is typical for long-lived species, they don’t reach sexual maturity until late in life (15 years for males and 20-33 years for females). As a result, scientists won’t know if the propagated Lake Sturgeon have started successfully breeding for at least two more years, when the earliest re-introduced females may achieve sexual maturity.

 

When the first signs of spawning are found, however, it will be a monumental payoff for decades of hard work and perseverance.

 

“That’ll be really exciting,” Dr. Kuhajda said. “It’ll sort of be completing this big, wonderful, long-term picture that the folks back in the late ’90s envisioned when they established the Lake Sturgeon Working Group.”

 

Members of the Tennessee Lake Sturgeon Working Group include:

 

·       U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

·       Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

·       Tennessee Valley Authority

·       U.S. Geological Survey

·       The Tennessee Aquarium

·       Tennessee Technological University

·       University of Tennessee at Knoxville

·       Conservation Fisheries Inc.

·       The Tennessee Clean Water Network

·       Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

·       World Wildlife Fund.


Cleveland State's Robert Brewer Receives Environmental Honors

TWRA Responds To 3 Boating Accidents

Tennessee Hunting And Trapping Guide - The Same But Different


The Tennessee Wildlife Foundation honored Cleveland State Community College Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries program director Robert Brewer as the Conservation Educator of the Year at the 55th ... (click for more)

TWRA officers responded to three serious boating incidents over the weekend. Incidents resulted in three life flights to area medical establishments. The first incident occurred on Watts ... (click for more)

The 2020-21 Tennessee Hunting and Trapping Guide is out and being delivered to stores where licenses are sold. Check out changes to rules and regulations for this upcoming deer season in the ... (click for more)



Outdoors

Cleveland State's Robert Brewer Receives Environmental Honors

The Tennessee Wildlife Foundation honored Cleveland State Community College Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries program director Robert Brewer as the Conservation Educator of the Year at the 55th Annual Conservation Achievement Awards. “Winning this award means the world to me,” said Mr. Brewer. “It tells me my work is recognized by my colleagues and that it is making a difference ... (click for more)

TWRA Responds To 3 Boating Accidents

TWRA officers responded to three serious boating incidents over the weekend. Incidents resulted in three life flights to area medical establishments. The first incident occurred on Watts Bar, just north of King Creek in Roane County, around 6 p.m. on Saturday. A 48-year-old Rockwood man entered the water from his boat, misjudging water depth. The boat propeller struck the ... (click for more)

Breaking News

County Commission Told That Local Company With $85 Million Expansion Got "No Help" From City Government

County Commission members were told Wednesday that a local firm's effort to invest $85 million and create 120 new jobs in Chattanooga got absolutely no help from city government. Officials of Southern Champion Tray on Tuesday announced the major project, but the press release did not have any quotes from Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke as usually would be the case. County Mayor ... (click for more)

Commissioner Smedley Says Most Apison Residents Do Not Want New Dollar General

County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley said Wednesday that most Apison residents like their rural way of life and do not want a new Dollar General. She said the location of the requested store at 11156 East Brainerd Road "is right in the middle of a residential area." Ben Berry, an engineer from Cleveland, Tn., said Apison is growing and many residents would welcome a new shopping ... (click for more)

Opinion

PILOTs In The Pandemic Period

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything. But there are a few exceptions. One exception is how easy it still is for a company to get a Payment-in-Lieu-of-Tax (PILOT) Agreement from Hamilton County. On Wednesday at the Hamilton County Commission agenda meeting, commissioners and the county mayor appeared enthusiastic about approving a property tax break for Southern ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Lunchbox Letters

You’ll remember the COVID crisis abruptly ended the 2019-20 school year in April and then followed a miserable four months where the flu effectively prohibited our children from seeing their friends, playing Little League baseball and being on the swim team. Our psychologists tell us the children have also suffered from “negative mental health issues.” Children need to begin catching ... (click for more)