Sturgeon make historic return
to French Broad River
Kathie Fulgham, Tennessee Aquarium, 423 785-3007
Wendy Smith, World Wildlife Fund, Southeast Rivers and Streams
Project, 615 584-5382
Barbara Martocci, TVA, 865 632-8632
Hilary Vincent, USFW, 828 258-3939 x234
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (July 19, 2000) - Longfellow called them the
"king of fishes" and at 11 a.m. on Wednesday July 19, they began
a historic comeback in the French Broad River below Douglas
Dam. The Lake Sturgeon reintroduction project is a result of
a unique partnership among federal, state, and non-profit partners.
These partners have agreed to work together over the next 25
years to reestablish the rich aquatic life that once existed
here, including self-sustaining populations of freshwater mussels,
snails and fishes such as Lake Sturgeon.
The partners in this project include the Southeast Aquatic Research
Institute, the Tennessee Aquarium, TVA, Tennessee Wildlife Resources
Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological
Survey and the World Wildlife Fund's Southeast Rivers and Streams
"The World Wildlife Fund recognizes the Tennessee River Basin
as the most diverse aquatic place in the world," said Wendy
Smith, director of WWF's Southeast Rivers and Streams Project.
"Being able to reintroduce Lake Sturgeon into the Tennessee
River system is an exciting good news story for everyone in
Sam Hamilton, the southeast regional director of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service sees this effort as a great example of
good science and good stewardship coming together. Hamilton
said, "This release would not be possible without improved water
quality in the French Broad River as well as TVA's Reservoir
Releases Improvement Program."
George Benz, director of the Southeast Aquatic Research Institute,
said, "Working to reestablish a large native fish like the Lake
Sturgeon is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the thought
of someday seeing large sturgeon swimming in the Tennessee River
system leaves me speechless." He went on to say, "It's unique
partnerships that are facilitating this and other efforts to
bring back native aquatic species."
Dick Biggins, fish and mussel recovery coordinator for the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service in the Southeast, looks at the reintroduction
of Lake Sturgeon as part of an overall effort. "Our goal," he
said, "is to reestablish native aquatic species in the French
Broad River and reestablish the Lake Sturgeon so that it does
not need Endangered Species Act protection. Hopefully these
efforts will establish a self-sustaining population that may
eventually become a fishable resource."
Five years ago, Ed Scott, TVA aquatic biologist began observing
a remarkable comeback of fish communities and aquatic insects
in the French Broad River. "These biological improvements caught
the attention of state, and federal agencies and have lead to
these species reintroductions." He also noted that sport fishing
is on the increase and there is a growing appreciation of the
French Broad River as a recreational resource.
Lake Sturgeon are prized as a sport fish in other areas of the
country where they are making a comeback. They can grow to almost
eight feet in length and weigh about 300 pounds. In a recent
National Public Radio story, a fisherman in Wisconsin told of
a sturgeon dragging his boat over 4 miles. "Now that may be
only a 'fish story,' said Smith of WWF, but as my grandfather
used to say, If it isn't true, it should be!"
"It will be years before we know whether we have a sustainable
population of Lake Sturgeon in the upper Tennessee River system,
and this shows the importance of not losing species in the first
place," said Gary Myers, of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
"The project includes a long-term monitoring study, through
which sturgeon will be tagged and followed to learn more about
their life history and preferred habitat. We hope that people
who fish these waters will help us by releasing any Lake Sturgeon
they catch and by letting us know where the fish was caught,
as well as its condition and size."
If the project is successful and Lake Sturgeon thrive in the
French Broad River, state law will protect the fish and regulate
any sport fisheries that may develop.
"It is very rewarding to see water quality in the French Broad
River below Douglas Dam improve to the point that reintroduction
of Lake Sturgeon is possible," said Kate Jackson, executive
vice president of river operations and environment at TVA. "But
their survival also depends on what people do on the land. Soil
erosion, illegal dumping, and run-off of chemicals from cars,
trucks, lawns and farms continue to threaten water quality in
the lower French Broad River. There are many things individuals
can do to reduce these threats and keep the water clean for
Lake Sturgeon and the human populations that depend on the Tennessee
River as a drinking water source."