As published in the Angler Magazine September 2019
Save the Sturgeon this September
Savannah Riverkeeper says: September is Sturgeon Awareness Month!
SRK is running an education campaign to teach people about the unique, endangered fish that is found—or supposed to be—right here in the Savannah River. Two species, the Atlantic and the Shortnose Sturgeon, are historically found in the area and are listed as federally endangered. Sturgeon travel from the ocean and coastal channels where they live out most of their days to the river shoals where they come to spawn each year. Long-threatened and depleted by habitat loss and overfishing, efforts are now bringing this prehistoric fish back to its natural home.
Efforts in place to preserve and restore these fish, primarily through NOAA Fisheries (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) include designation, then protection, of critical habitat; take limits for permitted projects; and other regulation on fishing. Meanwhile, conservation groups advocate for local projects to restore water flows through dam removals, fish passages, and more. It’s hopeful that the species will rebound, but they are still very imperiled and face an “upstream” battle.
Conservation groups and biologists agree, however, that efforts to save sturgeon will also have positive effects on other species that historically rely on a similar spawning path. Anadromous fish (which means they move from river to sea) like shad and striped bass or striper likewise benefit from efforts to conserve habitat and restore free-flowing waterways. “Our guiding goals as Waterkeeper organizations are to work for drinkable, swimmable, and fishable waters,” said Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus. “We want people to understand that healthy fisheries are home to strong populations of species. When managed sustainably, they are capable of supporting communities and economy in a way that the whole system thrives.”
Know the Law Before You Fish
Both Atlantic and Shortnose Sturgeon are protected by the Endangered Species Act, which means it is illegal to fish for, catch, or keep sturgeon or their parts. If you happen to catch a specimen which is responsive and lively, remove the hook or cut the line and return the fish to the water immediately. If possible, try to keep it submerged and the belly supported.
Did you know you can save a sturgeon’s life with just a water hose? If the fish is trapped in fishing line, net, or other impediment and looks lethargic or unresponsive, you should try to help it. Oftentimes, it is possible to resuscitate these fish by flushing water over the gills. Position a hose through the mouth and slightly to the side, not down the throat. Let the water run gently but steadily out and over the gills, as if the fish were swimming forward, until recovery is obvious.
Report a Stranded, Injured, or Dead Sturgeon
If you find a stranded, injured, or dead sturgeon, please report it to NOAA Fisheries at (978) 281-9328 or in the Southeast at (844) STURG-911 or (844) 788-7491, or send an email to NOAA.Sturg911@noaa.gov.
Savannah Riverkeeper will be conducting educational outreach all month with participating partners. To request an educational presentation for your classroom or club, for curriculum you can use to teach students about sturgeon, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To support Savannah Riverkeeper’s outreach efforts, you can buy a Save the Sturgeon t-shirt! A collaboration with Blackmon Outfitters. Click here to shop!