- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004


A search of various science books and Internet sites reveals that the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus) has inhabited earth for 70million years. It can grow larger and live longer in places like the Chesapeake Bay than any other local species. Various biological reports show they can live for more than 60 and maybe up to 100 years.

Sturgeons can attain weights of up to 800 pounds and have grown to 15 feet. Inexplicable sturgeon behavior includes an odd habit of suddenly jumping high out of the water, yet it’s not done to pursue food.

Atlantic sturgeons do not have scales but are covered with five rows of bony plates called scutes. They have a hard snout and four whisker-like sensing barbels that are seen near the mouth. The snout is used to scour the bottom for insects, crustaceans and mollusks. They are at home from eastern Canada clear down to the Gulf of Mexico. Under normal circumstances, they should visit the Chesapeake region’s rivers to spawn during the spring months.

Individual fish spawn every two to six years, releasing large, sticky eggs that scatter and become attached to the bottom, preferably to a hard substrate. An adult female can release more than 1million eggs.

Early American records show sturgeon meat was cured and stored for shipment to Europe as far back as the 17th century. The sturgeon was the first big cash crop for Jamestown, Va., settlers and in 19th century New England was second only to the lobster among important fisheries.

Did you know sturgeon skin can be worked into leather for clothing and that its swim bladder can be used to make a semitransparent gelatin called isinglass, a substance that helps clarify jellies, wine, beer or glue? And, yes, a pound of sturgeon roe (caviar) can cost $250 and more.

Sadly, the population has been reduced tremendously because of overfishing, pollution and dam construction. Because of that, no sport fishery exist for Atlantic sturgeon.

— Gene Mueller

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