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Woman injured by sturgeon on Suwannee River

News Release

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Media contact: Karen Parker, 386-758-0525

A woman was injured when a sturgeon crashed through her boat's windshield and showered her with glass.

Erica Stevens (DOB 03/21/84) of Safety Harbor received minor injuries, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigators.

On April 27, Stevens and her husband, Scott Stevens, who was operating the boat, were on the Suwannee River north of the U.S. 19 Bridge in Gilchrist County, traveling at about 15 mph. At about 5 p.m., a 5-foot sturgeon jumped up in front of Stevens' vessel and crashed through the boat's windshield, FWC officials said.

Erica Stevens was sitting behind the passenger windshield and was hit by flying glass, sustaining cuts on her arms and legs. According to investigators, it's not certain that the sturgeon ever made contact with her during the incident.  

Her husband took her to Shands Hospital in Gainesville. The sturgeon strike was reported to FWC April 28, and an investigation began.

The sturgeon also struck the bimini-top support and the motor cowling before coming to rest inside the vessel. The Stevens' 1973, 15-foot Lightning boat sustained approximately $2,300 in damages.

Scott Stevens told investigators he threw the sturgeon back into the river but thought it was dead.

"This is the first sturgeon strike in 2011," said Maj. Lee Beach, law enforcement commander of the FWC's North Central Region. "And that's one too many."

Beach explained, "We certainly don't want to scare anyone off the river. The Suwannee is beautiful, and we want folks to come out and enjoy their trip. We just want to remind boaters that the sturgeon are back in the Suwannee, and they are jumping during this time of year."

In 2006, FWC officials began working on a public-awareness campaign, posting signs along the river to explain the risk of impacts with jumping sturgeon. 

What's the best course of action for avoiding a collision?

"We recommend boaters reduce their speed to reduce the risk of impact and to give people more time to react if they do encounter a jumping sturgeon," Beach said. "The FWC also recommends that all boaters wear their life jackets."

Biologists are unsure why sturgeon jump.  

Gulf sturgeon can get quite big, exceeding 8 feet and 200 pounds. 

State and federal laws protect sturgeon, just like bald eagles, panthers and sea turtles. The Gulf sturgeon is listed as threatened, and their harvest is prohibited.

To report sturgeon collisions, call 888-404-FWCC (3922).

FWC Facts:
Seagrass blades slow water flow, allowing suspended material to settle to the bottom, which increases water clarity.

Learn More at AskFWC