The Gulf sturgeon is a federally-listed threatened species (Federal Register 1991) and much of the river, bay and nearshore areas throughout its range are considered critical habitat in support of spawning,in-river holding, or feeding activities. (Critical habitat is a term used in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to refer to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management and protection.) Catching, harming, or disturbing Gulf sturgeon is prohibited by federal and Mississippi regulations.
Recently we have become aware of a business that is damaging the habitat the Gulf sturgeon needs to survive. Red Creek Off Road is making Red and Black creeks muddy and silty and filling both creeks in, this threatens Gulf of Mexico Sturgeon since their best-known resting and congregating area in the Pascagoula around mid-summer is the natural "lake" at the mouth of Black Creek.
We learned about the Gulf Sturgeon from the University of South Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. They are very interesting fish. Sturgeons are an ancient group of fish dating back about 200 million years to the age of dinosaurs. Gulf sturgeon are a subspecies of Atlantic sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus. It is very difficult to visually distinguish between the two. Worldwide there are 27 sturgeon species and two closely related species of paddlefish.
- Scientific Name: Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi
- Common name: Gulf Sturgeon, Gulf of Mexico Sturgeon
- Order: Acipenseriformes
- Family: Acipenseridae
- Management Category: Threatened
Gulf sturgeon are anadromous as adults, meaning that they spend time in both saltwater and freshwater, like salmon. Adults migrate upriver from the Gulf of Mexico in the springtime to spawn, returning to their natal streams to spawn, again similar to salmon. That is why the Black Creek habitat is so vital to them (Black Creek feeds into the Pascagoula River). The total number of adult Gulf sturgeon is unknown. However, the population in the seven coastal rivers of the Gulf of Mexico inhabited by Gulf sturgeon is estimated at more than 15,000 adults. Of those rivers, the Suwannee River in Georgia and Florida supports the most viable subpopulation, estimated at more than 9,000 adults in the mid-2000s. The subpopulation estimate for mature Gulf sturgeon in the Choctawhatchee River in Alabama and Florida is about 3,000 fish. However, estimates for other rivers (Pearl, Pascagoula, Escambia, Yellow, and Apalachicola) average around 400.
Current threats include the following.
- construction of water control structures, such as dams and sills, mostly after 1950, exacerbated habitat loss
- groundwater extraction
- irrigation and runoff
- flow alterations
- poor water quality
- contaminants, primarily from industrial sources
Since 2007, faculty and staff of GCRL's Fisheries Ecology Lab have worked closely with colleagues at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center (USACE-ERDC) in Vicksburg to study Gulf Sturgeon ecology and movements. Currently, there are three joint projects: the Pascagoula River, the Gulfport Harbor Expansion Project, and Ship Island Restoration. Dr. Mark Peterson is principal investigator for all three projects. Todd Slack, from the USACE-ERDC, is co-PI on the Gulfport Harbor and Ship Island projects.
Pascagoula River ProjectThe Pascagoula River is the only large river in the lower 48 States that is not dammed or has sills on the main stream. GCRL's longest running project is conducted on this beautiful and wild river. Their research has provided considerable data on Gulf Sturgeon movements and ecology. They tag Gulf Sturgeon in the Pascagoula River as well as in the Pearl River system.
What you can do to help the Gulf sturgeonHelp protect their habitat. The Pascagoula River is being threatened with a dam by George County because they want to create two fake lakes for recreation. You can read more about it at American Rivers, We Shouldn’t Mess with the Pascagoula, as well as finding out how to help prevent it.
We also need to get media attention to the damage Red Creek Off Road is doing to their habitat. If you can do a Facebook Post, Tweet, or Blog about it that would be great. #Mississippi #PascagoulaRiver
Now I was a bit puzzled about how I could take a picture with a sturgeon since they live in water and I don't really care for getting wet but I found a solution.
Before we go we want to welcome Teddy from Two Spoiled Cats to blogville. Socks and I advise Teddy to enjoy being a kitten and not to be in a hurry to grow up. Fenris and Tuiren want him to know not to be afraid of dogs and Yin, Yang and Chimera just want to know if he will come over and PLAY. ~Scylla, reporting for ATCAD