Three Stranded Sturgeon Rescued, Released into Suwannee River
Photo courtesy of FWCThree Gulf sturgeon were recently rescued from the Alapaha River in Hamilton County and released into the Suwannee River, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The rescue mission was a partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the FWC, and the Suwannee River Water Management District (District).
"We received two calls about these stranded fish," said Dan Dorosheff, FWC freshwater fisheries biologist in Lake City. "One man called while he was bream fishing. He saw the sturgeon trapped in a pool that was about 4 feet deep."
The section of the Alapaha River where the fish were stranded is accessible through District property.
"USGS biologists coordinated with District personnel and the FWC to plan a rescue of the stuck sturgeon," Dorosheff said.
Ken Sulak, USGS research fish biologist, said Gulf sturgeon had not been seen, reported or netted from the Alapaha prior to this incident.
"Over the past few years, as the population has increased, we have observed expansion of habitat use in the upper river and into the Withlacoochee," Sulak said. "Perhaps this Alapaha stranding reflects the same phenomenon."
The Suwannee River is fairly low right now, according to biologists, and the sandbar at the entrance to the Alapaha cuts off the flow between the two rivers. Typically, during late summer and early fall, the lower reaches of the Alapaha River dry up, or more accurately, the river flows underground until it empties into the Suwannee River. Biologists hoped a good rain storm would solve the problem, but when that didn't happen, the scientists decided to rescue the sturgeon.
The biologists were concerned that attempting the rescue might stress the fish to the point where they wouldn't survive. However, they decided it was worth the risk.
"I hate to see any Gulf sturgeon die needlessly," Sulak said.
The three sturgeon were rescued Sept. 22, by Dorosheff, Sulak and Mike Randall, with the USGS. They netted the fish and carried them up the rocky river bank in a specially constructed stretcher. The sturgeon were then transported to the release site in a mobile tank.
"These sturgeon had been tagged in the past, and new tags were secured to the fish prior to their release," Dorosheff said.
The biologists said the fish appeared healthy. The three rescued sturgeon were adults, most likely males, ranging from 40 to 60 pounds.
"These fish were probably between 12 and 20 years old," Sulak said.
The sturgeon were taken to Gibson Park and released into the Suwannee River just downstream from the Alapaha Rise spring.
The Suwannee River appears to support the largest viable population of Gulf sturgeon. Biologists estimate the annual population at 10,000-14,000 fish, averaging approximately 40 pounds each.
Adult fish spend eight to nine months each year in the river, spawning in the spring, and then resting for several months. They spend three to four of the coolest months in Gulf waters. Sturgeon tend to congregate in deeper waters with moderate currents and sandy bottoms.
Gulf sturgeon have been in the news in recent years when boaters encountered the huge jumping fish in the Suwannee River. However, so far in 2010 no encounters between the fish and boaters have been reported.
For more information about the Gulf sturgeon, go to //research.MyFWC.com and click on "Freshwater."