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News and events

News & events

Spawning reefs offer recovery strategy for sturgeon in the James

October 7, 2014

The Atlantic Sturgeon once supported a major Chesapeake Bay fishery and was among the oldest, largest, and most iconic species along the Atlantic coast. In response to habitat loss, pollution, and over-fishing, Atlantic Sturgeon abundance declined dramatically and, as recently as the early 1990s, some biologists believed that the species was extirpated from Chesapeake Bay. However, small numbers of sturgeon did persist in a few coastal rivers, including the James River of Virginia; most U.S. populations were listed by NOAA as federally endangered in 2012. As part of ongoing research and recovery efforts for James River Atlantic Sturgeon, three spawning reefs were constructed in the James during the period 2010-2013 by the James River Association (JRA) and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rice Rivers Center (VCURRC), with support from USFWS, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Luck Stone, and Vulcan Materials.

Each reef is about one-half hectare in size and was constructed with aggregate from local sources. Site selection was based on a number of criteria, including river depth, salinity, and proximity to known migration corridors. Habitat mapping by VCURRC, USGS, and NOAA suggested that the availability of clean, hard substrate — necessary for successful sturgeon spawning — may limit recovery in the James, which experiences high rates of sedimentation from watershed sources. Post-construction monitoring of reefs by VCURRC and JRA employed a wide array of gears, including egg mats, nets, and acoustic telemetry, and utilization has been documented for several migratory and semi-migratory fishes, including white perch and Alosa spp.

Unfortunately, no eggs of Atlantic Sturgeon have yet been recovered from the reefs but limited monitoring will continue, as resources permit. For more information on this program, contact Greg Garman at ggarman@vcu.edu.

For a lighthearted look at sturgeon activity in the James, see the James River Sturgeon Facebook page.

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