Sturgeon Making a Comeback in James River

Photo: James River Association

A discovery no bigger than the palm of your hand has riverkeepers on the James River very excited.

Five juvenile sturgeon were found in the James, a positive sign for both the federally-protected species and the health of the waterway.

The tiny young fish are quite a contrast from adult Atlantic sturgeon, which can grow to be 14 feet long and live for 60 years.

Baby sturgeon have just recently turned up in the river, after no sightings in more than 10 years. It’s a big deal because it shows sturgeon are spawning in the James. The species was harvested almost to extinction in the 1800s, and has only made a comeback in the last few years.

Jamie Brunkow, Riverkeeper with the James River Association (JRA), reports that JRA staff found the weeks-old sturgeon during an educational outing and released them back into the river.

“Juvenile sturgeon have been very scarce in the James River, but new and encouraging discoveries are continuing to happen,” he says. “Last fall, (Virginia Commonwealth University) VCU researchers documented the first two juvenile sturgeon discovered in the James River in more than a decade.”

The JRA notes that the Atlantic sturgeon’s designation as a protected species and federal levels may be to thank for the recent increase in its population. But the river’s improving health has certainly also made it a more inviting habitat for the fish.

“JRA’s most recent State of the James report showed a 10-point increase in the overall health of the James in 10 years,” Brunkow says. “As more investments are made to restore water quality across the Bay watershed, conditions improve for species like Atlantic sturgeon.” He adds that the fish has also been found in other reaches of the Chesapeake, such as the York, Nanticoke, and Rappahannock Rivers.

All in all, it’s good news for the species. “Finding young sturgeon that are too small to have migrated from a different river is incredibly important proof of successful spawning in the James River – a sign of positive momentum for the species,” says Brunkow.

Laura Adams Boycourt