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April 25, 2014

Sturgeon returning to the Suwannee River

Live Oak —

They’re back! Gulf sturgeon have begun their annual migration back into the Suwannee River, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey recently reported that the fish have started to return to the river. However, with the higher water levels this spring, the fish don’t seem to be jumping as frequently as in previous years. As the river levels drop, the jumping frequency could increase.

People have been injured in accidental collisions with the large, armored jumping sturgeon. However, for the 2013 boating season, there were no reports of boaters being injured by them.

“But, even one person getting hurt this year is one too many,” said Maj. Andy Krause, FWC regional commander. “We want people to be aware the sturgeon are back in the Suwannee and that the risk of injury to boaters does exist.”

FWC officers will be on water patrol during the summer months in a continued effort to educate boaters about these jumping fish. The FWC recommends going slow to reduce the risk of impact and to have more reaction time if a jumping sturgeon is encountered. All boaters are encouraged to wear their life jackets at all times while on the water.

These collisions aren’t attacks. The fish aren’t targeting boaters. They are simply doing what they have been doing for millions of years: jumping, although biologists are unsure why sturgeon jump.

Biologists estimate the annual population of sturgeon in the Suwannee River to be between 10,000-14,000 fish, averaging 40 pounds. However, a few exceed 170 pounds. They can leap more than seven feet out of the water. To add to the seriousness of being hit by one, the fish have five rows of armor-like scutes.

Adult fish spend eight to nine months each year in the river, spawning in May, and then return to the Gulf during the coolest months to feed.

State and federal laws protect sturgeon, just like bald eagles, panthers and sea turtles. Gulf sturgeon cannot be harvested.

To report sturgeon collisions, call 888-404-FWCC (3922).

For more information about the Gulf sturgeon, go to MyFWC.com/Research and click on “Saltwater” then “Sturgeon.”

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