An unusual catch in 1967, this Atlantic sturgeon, was caught by Horace Binns from the
Chicahominy River near Charles City County, Virginia.
30 Winter 2014 ;
he inimitable Atlantic sturgeon: the Chesapeake Bay’s oldest, largest, and longest-lived fish species.
Virtually unchanged from its prehistoric form, the sturgeon can grow to 14 feet in length, weigh up to 800
pounds, and live to 60 years in age.
Exported by Jamestown settlers, the harvested roe made sturgeon the first significant fishery in the Bay.
Unfortunately, sturgeon was also the first to be overfished as the meat and caviar became popular domestically as
well. Thirty years after record annual harvests of 700,000 pounds in the 1890s, catches had diminished by more
than 90 percent to just 22,000 pounds in the 1920s. Add habitat destruction, pollution, and a low reproductive
potential (females don’t begin spawning until about age 12) and the collapse of sturgeon was inevitable.
Sturgeon became a mostly forgotten fishery and sightings of the fish were few and far between. With only remnant populations remaining in 1998, the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission closed the entire coast to Atlantic
sturgeon fishing for the next four decades. And the federal government listed the species as endangered in 2012.
But, hope springs eternal in Virginia’s James River where a relative abundance of spawning female sturgeon were
reported this fall. There’s encouraging news from the Nanticoke River in Maryland as well where a spawning
female was caught earlier this year, possibly the result of a stocking attempt fifteen years ago.
Maybe there’s hope for this Bay dinosaur after all.