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Energy & Environment

Long-gone Sturgeon Return To NC Waters

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

It’s been nearly 70 years since a species of fish called the Lake Sturgeon has been found in North Carolina waters. Experts say it’s a fish with a long history.  

“The lake sturgeon is a very ancient breed of fish,” says Stephen Jackson, a hatchery manager with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in eastern North Carolina. “They were around during the dinosaurs and actually predate many of the dinosaurs that we’re very familiar with.” 

The Lake Sturgeon is now poised for a comeback in North Carolina.  It’s home will be the French Broad River in the western part of the state, where wildlife officials on Monday are making the second of two releases over the past week.  The project is placing a total of 7,200 young Lake Sturgeon, about 7 inches long, into the river north of Asheville.  The release is part of a broader effort to restore the species in several states.  

Lake Sturgeon can live for more than 100 years and reach at least 8 feet in length, weighing up to 200 pounds.  By the mid-1940s, pollution, construction of dams, and over-fishing had zapped the sturgeon’s native presence in the French Broad River and many other habitats in the eastern half of the U.S. The bottom-dwelling fish were especially sought out for their caviar.

The Lake Sturgeon is also an indicator of an ecosystem’s health.  “Since the rivers have been cleaned up, they’ve got a ready-made place where they can grow and expand and continue to be, in essence, a canary in a coal mine for us to tell us how well the river systems are doing,” according to Jackson.  

Wildlife officials tagged the fish being released into the French Broad River with an identifying mark.  Some of the sturgeon will later receive radio transmitters so biologists can follow their movements. 

Recreational fishing for the slow-growing Lake Sturgeon newly-released into the French Broad is probably decades away.  Meanwhile, any anglers who do pull-in one of the fish will be required to return it to the water, alive.