Sturgeon could make a return to Chesapeake Bay

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The Maryland Department of Natural Resources deserves a round of applause for its enthusiasm about an attempt to breed wild Chesapeake sturgeon in a laboratory in hopes of restoring the once plentiful species in local waters.

Recently, a 7½-foot-long, 170-pound mature female sturgeon was found in the net of a commercial fisherman just off Tilghman Island on the Eastern Shore. It was kept alive and transported to a facility closely monitored by Maryland Fisheries Service biologists. The DNR says the sturgeon is the catalyst for what could be a huge step forward in Chesapeake Bay sturgeon research and restoration efforts.

The biologists are observing the sturgeon to see whether the maturation process advances. If the eggs inside the female continue to develop properly, the fish will be hormonally induced to spawn. The roe then will be removed surgically and fertilized with frozen sperm from several males, as well as sperm from currently held males, if possible. The eggs then will be cultured at several cooperating facilities, and progeny will be marked and experimentally stocked into two target tributaries.

“This information will tell us whether the target tributaries are likely to support populations of young sturgeon,” said Howard King, the DNR’s Fisheries director. “Additionally, stocked larvae should return to the target tributaries upon maturity, which could effectively reintroduce adult sturgeon to Maryland waters.”

In many years past, sturgeons were found in great numbers along the entire Atlantic coast, but there are few if any spawning fish left in Maryland or in neighboring states. For some reason, however, young migrant sturgeon from other systems come into the Chesapeake Bay every year, and some of them have been collected.

About 50 of these fish are now held at the University of Maryland Aquatic and Restoration Ecology Laboratory in Cambridge. The laboratory is an active partner in the restoration effort. Most of the captured sturgeons were 3 to 6 years old when caught. It can take more than 10 years for them to reach sexual maturity.

Active partners in the Maryland DNR sturgeon restoration project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maryland Fisheries Resource Office, Mirant Mid-Atlantic Power Company and the University of Maryland. The DNR also cooperates with the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control and the District of Columbia Fisheries office.

Virginia muskie record certified The state record fish committee of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has certified a state record muskellunge, also called muskie. On June 1, Shannon Hill of Christiansburg caught a 45½-pound muskie in the New River in the southwestern part of the state. It topped the old record of 45 pounds set in 1989 by R. A. Underwood, whose trophy also came from the New River. Hill’s muskellunge measured 53 inches long with a girth of 24½ inches.

Nature Conservancy receives island — The Nature Conservancy says an anonymous donor has given Offutt Island — a 10-acre island located in the heart of the Potomac River Gorge — to the conservation group. Offutt Island supports significant habitat types, including riverside prairie, river scour shrubland, bedrock terrace forest, floodplain forest and upland forest. More than a dozen state-listed rare plant species exist on the Island, including leatherwood, riverbank goldenrod, scarlet ammannia, wild false indigo and Wood’s sedge.

The Conservancy will manage Offutt Island as a nature preserve. The global conservation group also owns or co-owns Conn Island just above Great Fall, and Bear Island, which it co-owns with the National Park Service. Bear Island is the site of the popular Billy Goat Trail Section A. Offutt Island had been one of the few privately owned islands in the river gorge; most other islands are owned and managed by the National Park Service or Maryland.

c Look for Gene Mueller”s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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