Jumping Sturgeon

By: Terry Tomalin

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If you're cruising the Suwannee this summer, be sure to keep a lookout for jumping fish.

State wildlife officials don't think the river’s sturgeon population has a vendetta against boaters. These prehistoric fish are doing what they have done for millions of years, which is jump. The only thing that has changed is that humans are now in the way.

Sturgeons, like salmon, are anadromous, which means they migrate from saltwater to freshwater to spawn. These fish can reach lengths of 8 feet and weigh up to 200 pounds. There are 27 species of sturgeon in the world, and of those, 25 are considered threatened.

Sturgeon spend the colder winter months in the Gulf of Mexico, then around March begin to move into the river, where they remain through the summer and fall. If it weren't for all the springs on the Suwannee, the area wouldn’t be so appealing to the species. The springs are always 72 degrees, which gives the fish a cool-water refuge when it gets hot.

Gulf sturgeon can be found from Louisiana's Mississippi River to Florida's Suwannee River, although these strange-looking fish have been documented as far west as Texas and as far south as Florida Bay. Florida's sturgeon population is concentrated in two rivers: the Apalachicola, where about 100 survive, and the Suwannee, which has roughly 2,250 to 3,000.

Sturgeons are a primitive species dating back 225 million years. These fish literally swam with the dinosaurs. Nobody knows for sure why all species of sturgeon jump. It could be to avoid predators or perhaps get rid of parasites. Or then again, maybe they do it for the same reasons humans jump in water -- because it's fun.

Sturgeon have always jumped, but it wasn't until humans started traveling waterways in large numbers that it became any kind of problem. During colonial times, sturgeon were so plentiful in the Hudson River that the settlers considered them a "hazard to small boats."

In recent years these fish have made headlines as more and more people take to the waterways during the summer months.

So, during the summer months, boaters on the Suwannee should always post a lookout. You never know when or where the next fish will jump.

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