The Search for Sturgeon: A Prehistoric and Endangered Fish

They're about a 170 to 200 million years old. It's really

amazing to think that we have this big prehistoric animal right here in our

backyards. This is the Pamunkey River; it's one of the two main tributaries to the

York River

The Pamunkey has a population of Atlantic Sturgeon which were listed as endangered

in 2012, which means that they are at the brink of extinction.

Anytime a species is listed as endangered or threatened, under the Endangered Species

Act, it becomes

all federal agencies' responsibilty to try to minimize our impact on the species

and try to help protect and preserve it where possible.

This is an enormous fish, right; it gets up to 800 pounds.

So from biomass perspective, it's consuming a lot of food,

it fills a large role in the ecosystem because of the size of the fish.

So the Navy does a lot of activities and has a lot

of installations throughout the lower Chesapeake Bay.

And so, when the species got listed as endangered through this area,

the Navy wanted to know, well, where these species

occur, what time of year they're here, and

where they overlap with their training and testing activities.

Within this river, any project that takes place, whether it

be the Navy or the Nuclear Regulatory

Commission or the Corps of Engineers, we want to make sure that whatever projects they

have to undertake to help society in general that we don't wipe out a species in

the process.

So we did some research and started working with Chris Hager in

Chesapeake Scientific. And our main interest was putting transponders into these


So we can can track their movements.

So when we get out in the morning, we put out usually three to four different sets

of gill nets. We string them all the way across the river. What we do is we

check the nets every hour to make sure that the fish aren't in the net for too long they

don't get stressed out. And if we catch a fish, we bring it over to the bank and

keep it in the river the whole time. We put passive integrated transponder tags

in it and they also put a t-bar tag which is just a simple external identifier

tag so we can see that we've caught it before so we can release it quickly

if we catch it again. And then we also sometimes put telemetry tags in

The telemetry tag sends out a ping, and so that way, we can follow the movements of

these fish over about four to five year period.

Through this system we can tell when they came into the mouth of the bay,

when they came... did they come from the south, did they come from the north, which way did

they come into the

bay, because we've got two lines of receivers out there in the ocean,

one going north, one going south, so you can actually sort of piece together

the track of how they got here.

We can track their movements and see where they're going

what time of year they're utilizing different locations in the bay,

and how those different areas overlap with the Navy's activities and that gives


the ability to then turn around and adjust our activities in terms of timing

or whatever to try to avoid having an impact of these species.

So, the Pamunkey River is actually a really interesting area to be working because

it's such a small river that you can catch almost every fish that comes up.

You actually get to know each individual fish. And so you can monitor the

behavior of an entire population and you can see whether they're coming back

every year or every other year

you can see the changes in growth rates that you might have within the population,

So, we're learning quite a bit about Atlantic Sturgeon and their behavior for this

river and we hopefully can extrapolate that out to other rivers as other scientists

figure out that their fish are doing the same thing. Having these species here

and having them go back to their historic abundance is really important

to the overall ecosystem function.