Richmond Times-Dispatch outdoors columnist Andy Thompson caught up with some experts to find out more about the Atlantic sturgeon population on the James River and how the man-made spawning beds established two years ago have impacted the numbers:
One of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had on the James River came in the fall of 2009, when Lower James Riverkeeper Chuck Frederickson [of the James River Association] and I joined VCU fish biologist Matt Balazik in search of a prehistoric fish that still calls the river home.
We caught one Atlantic sturgeon that day, an amazing looking beast that was once fished to near extinction. Since that November day, man-made spawning beds have been created in two places in the tidal James — near City Point and Jones Neck — to create the kind of rocky substrate the fish prefer to spawn on.
Atlantic sturgeon are the biggest fish in the river (800 pounds) but they are only found in the springtime when they lay huge gobs of sticky eggs among the rocks. Boney plates (instead of scales) show this is a prehistoric fish. A mouth that faces down shows that it lives on the bottom and lips that unroll like a short hose shows that it sucks up food from mud. Native American boys used to ride them here as a Rite of Manhood. It is illegal to catch or hurt them.