Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Maryland Scientists Interrupt Sex Act

Biologists net ‘ripe’ sturgeon on Nanticoke tributary
When a crew of biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources hauled a gill net out of the Marshyhope Creek in late August, what they hauled in was more than the catch of the day: It may have been the catch of their careers.

One of the nets contained two “ripe” — ready to spawn — Atlantic sturgeon. One was a 7-foot 3-inch, 154-pound female. The other was a 5-foot 2-inch, 70-pound male. The female was filled with black eggs, and the male was leaking sperm.
. . .
The recent catch ended more than two years of frustration for the biologists. Fishermen have reported seeing sturgeon jumping in the Marshyhope for several years. Last fall, one landed in the boat of two anglers.

But crews from the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had — until Aug. 28 — failed to net any sturgeon. The previous week, in fact, Stence and his crew saw one jump only about 40 feet from their boat, but they were unable to net it.
Not Marshyhope Creek (note mountains)
Apparently the DNR and USFWS people either aren't all that good at catching fish, or they weren't trying awfully hard.

I suppose it's good that they found out that there are sturgeon getting ready to spawn there, but it would probably have been better if they hadn't interrupted the spawning pair, who may not have been able to get it back together in time.
Actual proof of spawning would require finding recently spawned “young of year” fish in the river. Right now, Stence said, no surveys exist in the vicinity of the Marshyhope that would catch young of year sturgeon. Now, with evidence that suggests potential spawning activity, the fishery service will consider starting one, he said.

It’s also unknown where the sturgeon came from. They could be remnants of a native Maryland population that has gone undetected for decades. It is possible, some have suggested, that they are James River fish that have wandered up the Bay. Another possibility is that they stem from a small batch of juvenile Hudson River fish that were released in the Nanticoke in 1996.

Those questions could be answered in coming weeks. The biologists took DNA samples of both sturgeon for analysis.
People very occasionally hook big sturgeon in the bay. Whether or not they are fish that spawn locally, or wandering migrants from remaining viable populations isn't really well known.

It's good to see something coming back from the old days.

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