Sturgeon returning to the Suwannee River
Additional photos are available: https://www.flickr.com/photos/myfwcmedia/albums/72157628624428497
Gulf sturgeon have begun their annual migration back into the Suwannee River, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials want boaters to be aware that these jumping fish can injure people.
During 2018, only one sturgeon encounter with a boat was reported. There were no injuries to the boaters involved. Although no injuries were reported last year, FWC officials don’t want the boating community to become complacent about the dangers posed by jumping Gulf sturgeon.
“We don’t want even one person to be injured in an encounter with the fish,” said Maj. Andy Krause, FWC regional commander. “We want people to be aware the sturgeon are back in the Suwannee and that the risk of injury to boaters does exist.”
FWC officers will be on water patrol during the summer months in a continued effort to educate boaters about these jumping fish.
“The best course of action is to go slow, wear your life jacket and keep people off the bow of the boat,” Krause explained. “The Suwannee is a beautiful river and we certainly don’t want to scare anyone away from enjoying it. We just want those recreating there to be aware these fish are present and can jump at any time.”
Going slow is recommended to reduce the risk of impact and to have more reaction time if a jumping sturgeon is encountered. And boaters are always encouraged to wear their life jackets at all times while on the water.
Researchers have determined that sturgeon jump to communicate with other fish and to gulp air to fill their swim bladders. This allows sturgeon to maintain neutral buoyancy.
Biologists estimate the annual population of sturgeon in the Suwannee River to be approximately 10,000 fish, averaging about 5 feet in length and weighing 40 pounds. However, some of the fish can exceed 170 pounds. Sturgeon can leap more than 7 feet out of the water. Adult fish spend eight to nine months each year in the river, spawning in May, and then return to the Gulf during the coolest months to feed.
While it is possible for sturgeon to jump anywhere in the river, fish in the Suwannee are more commonly observed jumping where they gather in “holding” areas. Major holding areas in the Suwannee occur above Jack's Sandbar; below Manatee Springs; between Fanning Springs and Usher Landing; below Old Town Trestle; below the confluence of the Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers; near Rock Bluff; and below Anderson Springs.
State and federal laws protect sturgeon, and they cannot be harvested. To report sturgeon collisions, call 888-404-FWCC (3922). For more information about the Gulf sturgeon, go to: MyFWC.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/saltwater/gulf-sturgeon.
For living with Gulf sturgeon information, go to MyFWC.com/Conservation, click on “How You Can Conserve,” then “Living with Wildlife” MyFWC.com/conservation/you-conserve/wildlife/sturgeon.