Reef created to help save sturgeon in James river

By Andrew Freiden - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -  A prehistoric creature is lurking in the James river -- but barely. The sturgeon -- a fish older than the dinosaurs -- may be coming back from the dead.

Sturgeon have been around for 120 million years. You can find them at Maymont's Nature Center -- but they are hard to find in the James.

"About the only real enemy they have is man.  They were overfished in the 1890s and became almost extinct on the river," said river keeper Chuck Frederickson.

He said sturgeon taste great -- they produce wonderful caviar, and used to rule the James river before European colonists showed up.

"When the migration of sturgeon came up the river, they were so plentiful, they were able to stick their sword in the river and catch a fish and bring it in," Frederickson said.

It's known as the fish that saved Jamestown -- and now it's our turn to return the favor.

There only a few sturgeon left breeding in the entire bay -- and they are right here in the James. Barely surviving.  Years of development has covered the formerly rocky bottom with silt -- that's a problem.

"Sturgeon like to spawn on clean hard, rocky bottom," Frederickson said. "What we're doing is trying to put a controlled site, hoping to attract some sturgeon to spawn on. Seventy feet wide by 300 feet long by two feet high off the bottom of broken granite."

Those granite rocks for the reef were donated by the Luck Stone Corporation.

Greg Garmin, director of Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Environmental Studies, said it took a lot of research and cooperation for many groups and agencies for this plan to come together.

"It wasn't just a matter of dumping a pile of rock any old place," he said.

If it works, the pile of rocks that has been dropped around the original channel of the James river as moves around Presquile National Wildlife Refuge in Chesterfield will be a nursery, and the beginning of a thriving sturgeon population.

"An important first, tangible step for the Atlantic sturgeon, not just in the James, but in the entire Chesapeake Bay," Garmin said.

And the sturgeon's  proud history in the Chesapeake Bay might turn into a proud future.

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