Recently Caught Mature Female Provides New Hope For Restoring The Species
CAMBRIDGE, Md. For the first time ever, scientists are attempting to breed wild Chesapeake sturgeon in a laboratory setting. A recently caught mature female sturgeon is the catalyst for what could be a huge step forward in Chesapeake Bay sturgeon research and restoration efforts. The 7.5-foot, 170-pound sturgeon, caught by a commercial fisherman off Tilghman Island, is the first mature female observed in the Maryland portion of the Bay since 1972.
In a complex, delicate process, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Service and its partners are currently monitoring the fish for maturation. If the eggs continue to progress, the fish will be hormonally induced to spawn. Eggs will then be surgically removed and fertilized with cryopreserved (frozen) sperm from several males, as well as sperm from currently held males if they can be induced to spermiate. Eggs will then be cultured at several cooperating facilities and progeny will be marked and experimentally stocked into two target tributaries.
If this effort proves successful, the stocked fish will be monitored to assess habitat suitability, survival, growth and movement, said DNR Fisheries Director Howard King. This information will tell us whether the target tributaries are likely to support populations of young sturgeon. Additionally, stocked larvae should return to the target tributaries upon maturity, which could effectively reintroduce adult sturgeon to Maryland waters.
The Atlantic sturgeon is a member of the ancient family Acipenseridae, which has existed for 120 million years, dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. Populations existed historically along the entire Atlantic coast.
There are few, if any, spawning fish left in Maryland, and neighboring jurisdictions have critically low levels of natural reproduction. However, migrant sub-adult sturgeon originating from other systems forage in the Chesapeake Bay and are routinely encountered in Maryland waters. Collection of wild sturgeon from the Maryland Sturgeon Reward Program began in 2003; approximately 50 of these fish are currently being held at the University of Maryland Aquatic and Restoration Ecology Laboratory (AREL) in Cambridge, Maryland. AREL is an active partner in the restoration effort and provides research relating to fish nutrition. Most of these fish were collected at three to six years of age so they could take more than 10 years to reach sexual maturity.
DNRs philosophy is that the most successful programs are cooperative efforts. We have enlisted the cooperation of many talented, effective and experienced organizations, said Brian Richardson, DNRs sturgeon project leader We believe that this combined approach provides the basis for development and construction of an effective, efficient and ecologically responsible restoration plan for Chesapeake Bay Atlantic sturgeon in Maryland.
Active partners in the Maryland DNR sturgeon restoration project include United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)-Maryland Fisheries Resource Office (MFRO), USFWS-Native Fish Conservation (NFC), USFWS Warm Springs Regional Fisheries Center, Mirant Mid-Atlantic Power Company and the University of Maryland AREL. DNR frequently cooperates with the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, District of Columbia Fisheries and Potomac River Fisheries Commission. DNR also works closely with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Because hatchery-based restoration requires development of a captive brood stock, DNR has been rearing a captive population of sturgeon since 1996.
For more information on Atlantic sturgeon restoration efforts, visit http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/recreational/hatchery/hatsturgeon.html.
Source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)