Thought nearly extinct in the Chesapeake just two decades ago, sturgeon are turning up in surprising numbers and in surprising places. They’re also doing surprising things, like spawning in the fall — unlike any other anadromous fish on the East Coast.
Much of what was common knowledge 20 years ago is being cast aside as discoveries come at an increasingly rapid pace. “What we would have said a year ago about sturgeon, we wouldn’t say today,” said Chris Hager, a biologist which Chesapeake Scientific, a consulting firm, who has studied the big fish for more than a decade.
|Not a Chesapeake Sturgeon|
A few years ago, most biologists would have said that only the James River had a reliable, if small, breeding population. Now, some think the James alone holds a population that could number in the thousands. Next door in the Pamunkey, scientists last year documented a spawning population.
This year, Maryland biologists caught eight ready-to-spawn fish in Marshyhope Creek on the Eastern Shore. “And if you go by what the fishermen are telling us, there’s a lot more of them out there,” said Chuck Stence, a fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
|Actual Chesapeake Bay Sturgeon|
I look forward to being able to catch and release my first Chesapeake Bay Sturgeon.
Jumping sturgeon have been reported in the Mattaponi which, like the Pamunkey, is a York River tributary. In Maryland, jumping sturgeon were reported in the Nanticoke River, upstream of its confluence with the Marshyhope.
Biologists expect to expand their sturgeon searches into those rivers next year. And they tick off other rivers they consider candidates for hidden sturgeon populations: the Rappahannock, the Potomac, maybe even the Choptank and Chester.
“If they are up in the Pamunkey, they can be anywhere,” Hager said. “They are not going to be everywhere, but you are going to have to explore it, and I think that is going to continue to go on for quite some time.”