Monday, July 02, 2007

Sturgeon General

Once when I was still a reporter, I got a call one June day from Frances Dunwell, of the New York State DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program. Researchers were going out on a boat the next day to catch and tag sturgeon in the Hudson, she told me, and I was invited to accompany them. That’s great, I said, tell me where and when. Sturgeon were mysterious. The Hudson in June was beautiful. And a chance to observe part of what goes on under the water was too good to pass up.

Then an editor called me to his desk. A county employee had recently been charged with a crime in connection with a sewage spill in Yonkers, a story I had been covering. The employee was going to be arraigned at Yonkers city court. When? Tomorrow. But I was just invited to observe a sturgeon-tagging operation – it will make a great story.

Tough, he said. It's your story. You’re going to Yonkers city court.

I did as I was assigned, accompanied by plenty of complaining, but I always regretted the missed sturgeon opportunity.

It turns out though that Fran and the HREP are still involved in sturgeon research, along with other backers. Not long ago a fellow from the Albany Times Union did what I had hoped to do and wrote a pretty good account, here.

Here are some excerpts that interested me particularly:

Two centuries ago, novelist Washington Irving saw a sturgeon leap from the river.

"How solemn and thrilling the scene as we anchored at night at the foot of these mountains," he wrote, "... and was startled now and then by the sudden leap and heavy splash of the sturgeon."

However, there is some danger if a boater happens to get too close. Last month, a 32-year-old woman in Florida was knocked unconscious by a leaping sturgeon….

And if you like WPA murals, which I do, although I’m no expert and not even a student of them, here’s a reason to stop in and mail a letter the next time you’re passing through Hyde Park:

Murals that decorate the walls of the Hyde Park post office, which was used by the town's most famous resident, Franklin Roosevelt, include a depiction of two men in a flat-bottom river boat taking in a netted sturgeon while other workers on shore slaughter the fish for their flesh and caviar.

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Anonymous robert said...

Hudson River (NY). The shortnose sturgeon occupies a 246-km section of the Hudson River from New York City to Troy Dam upstream of Albany [4]. This population is larger than the other 19 management populations combined. From late spring through early fall adults use deep, channel habitats of the freshwater and brackish reaches of the estuary. In the late fall, most or all adults concentrate at a single overwintering site in the river channel near Kingston while juveniles remain in the estuary. In the spring, adults spawn at a single location slightly downstream of the Troy Dam. The larvae gradually disperse downstream with juvenile sturgeon that inhabit much of the estuary during the summer, but occupy a more limited range in the southern portion of the estuary during winter.

Due to fishing prohibitions and habitat protection efforts (the population has not been augmented with hatchery fish or translocations), numbers in the Hudson River increased dramatically between 1979 (12,669 spawning fish (95% CI = 9,080-17,735)), 1980 (13,844 (95% CI = 10,014-19,224)), and 1994-1996 (56,708 (95% CI = 50,862-64,072)) [4]. The size and age of individual fish and the demographic structure of the population as a whole indicate a healthy condition typical of non-endangered, long-lived species.

The 1998 federal recovery plan specifies that a sturgeon population is to be considered viable if it has at least 10,000 members, is on a stable or improving population trajectory, and is protected from degradation of its key habitat areas [2]. As the demographic parameters have been exceeded and the spawning and overwintering habitats appear stable, some biologists have recommended that the Hudson River population be designated as a distinct population segment and removed from the endangered species list as recovered species [4]. Delisting, however, would require the establishment of management agreements to guarantee long-term protection from unsustainable fishing, by-catch, pollution, and habitat degradation.

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Emmett Pepper said...

This is a bit off-topic, but if you wanna see some scary jumping fish, check this out and part two here. They are invasive and working their way into the Great Lakes ecosystem from the Mississippi. Unless Congress funds the barrier to keep them out.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Oh is that the Giant Asian Carp? They're leaders as well. I sure wish they'd develop a taste for other invasive species like the Zebra Mussel - dang vegetarians!

Anyway, that's good news on the sturgeon up the Hudson. How about the CT River?

Anyway, because of the stories about the sturgeon down by the Suwanee River I started using the monniker "The Sturgeon General" because it sounds so official, like I work for the President on health issues or something.

But while a sturgeon or giant carp can knock you down or even unconscious, the worst by far are billfish such as the marlin, which can pierce its beak clean through a person.

Put that warning on a pack of cigs!
-The Sturgeon General

2:00 PM  

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