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Lake Sturgeon Reintroduction to the Coosa River Basin

What is a Lake Sturgeon?

LAKE STURGEON (Acipenser fulvescens)

Sturgeon are an ancient fish that date back to the age of the dinosaurs.  They are a cartilaginous (nearly boneless) fish with a sucker-like mouth, shark-like tail, sensitive barbels (whiskers) under the snout, and bony scutes (plates) along the sides and top of its body.  They are opportunistic feeders, meaning they feed on almost anything they can find, with a diet consisting primarily of invertebrates, insect larvae, crayfish, worms and mollusks.  Size, weight and lifespan vary from species to species.

Most sturgeon are amphidronous, meaning they travel up freshwater rivers briefly to spawn, then return to the saltwater of the lower river and river estuaries for the remainder of the year.  Of the 27 living species found worldwide the lake sturgeon is one of only a few that spends its entire life in fresh water.

Lake sturgeon are primarily found in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River drainage, but are also found along the Tennessee River and Coosa River basins.  Originally considered a nuisance because they would entangle angler's nets, sturgeon had little value and were wastefully slaughtered in much the same way as the American Buffalo.  About 1860, their value increased dramatically as the demand for their flesh, eggs (used for caviar), and other products increased.  Over-harvest quickly occurred and their numbers dropped dramatically.  In addition to over-harvest, dams that block spawning movements and water pollution have negatively impacted the species.  Considered a threatened species throughout its range, its current population is estimated to be less than 1% of its original abundance.

Lake sturgeon are long-lived and can obtain weights over 100 pounds.  Specimens up to 150 years in age and weighing more than 200 pounds have been documented.  However, in their remaining range, most males live about 55 years and females about 80 years.  Despite their long lives, sturgeon have very low reproduction potential.  Most females spawn for the first time between 14-23 years of age, and then only every 7-9 years afterwards

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