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Sturgeon returning to the Suwannee River

Gulf sturgeon have begun their annual migration back into the Suwannee River, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Researchers from the United States Geological Survey have reported that the fish began returning to the north Florida river in January because of the warm winter. With low water levels this spring, sturgeon may jump more frequently than in previous years. As river levels drop, the jumping frequency increases.

“The best course of action is to go slow, wear your life jacket and keep people off the bow of the boat,” said Maj. Andy Krause, FWC regional commander. “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. There have been injuries and, tragically, even a death in past years due to sturgeon strikes.”

Going slow is recommended to reduce the risk of impact and to have more reaction time if a jumping sturgeon is encountered. Boaters are always encouraged to wear their life jackets at all times while on the water.

“Even one person getting hurt is one too many,” said Krause. “We want people to be aware the sturgeon are back in the Suwannee and that a 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.

These collisions are not attacks. Sturgeon do not target boaters. They are doing what they have been doing for millions of years: jumping. 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 adult sturgeon in the Suwannee River to be about 10,000 fish, averaging about 5 feet in length and weighing 40 pounds. However, a few may exceed 170 pounds. Sturgeon can leap more than 7 feet out of the water. To add to the seriousness of being hit by one, the fish have five rows of armor-like scutes.

While it is possible for sturgeon to jump anywhere in the river, those 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.

Adult fish may spend up to nine months each year in the river, spawning in May, and then return to the Gulf during the coolest months to feed.

State and federal laws protect sturgeon, just like bald eagles, panthers and sea turtles. Gulf sturgeon cannot be harvested.

To report sturgeon collisions, call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

For more information about the Gulf sturgeon, go to MyFWC.com/Research and click on “Saltwater” then “Sturgeon.”