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Conservationists Release Endangered Sturgeon into Tennessee River

Lake sturgeon are migratory fish, traveling an average of 62 miles to spawn. (Vladimir Wrangel/Adobe Stock)

Scientists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the state Wildlife Resources Agency have released 89 lake sturgeon into the Tennessee River, as part of an ongoing effort to replenish the wild population.
These fish, which are listed as endangered, once thrived in the United States, but nearly went extinct in the 1970s because of overfishing, dam building, and poor water quality.
Meredith Hayes Harris is a biologist with the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute that participated in the sturgeon release this week. She says each fish is marked with a tracking tag identifying it with a unique number.
“We sample every winter the Tennessee River and all the other rivers where they are released, and when we recapture a fish, we will be able to read that number with a special wand that really enables us to get a lot of good data,” says Harris.
Lake sturgeon are one of three native sturgeon species found in Tennessee. They can grow up to nine feet long, weigh hundreds of pounds, and can live to be one hundred and fifty years-old.
Harris says lake sturgeon play a critical role in the marine life ecosystem, and that’s why Tennessee conservationists have been working so hard to replenish the population.
“Sturgeon being such a large and a long-lived fish, are incredibly important to the ecosystem,” says Harris. “They have a very, very large impact on all the other fish and aquatic life in these rivers, and we’re part of this ecosystem too, conserving the sturgeon is ultimately conserving the life-support system for us as humans.”
Since the late 1990s, more than 200,000 lake sturgeon have been released into the Tennessee, Cumberland and French Broad rivers.