In a conversation with CBS News, Martin J. Hamel, associate professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, discussed the future of lake sturgeon in Georgia.
The fish has existed for more than 136 million years but has not reproduced in Georgia lakes for half a century.
“It’s exciting because it’s confirmation that they are becoming mature and trying to spawn,” said Hamel. “Because lake sturgeon takes a long time to mature and then reproduce intermittently—every two to three years—we really need a robust population of varying size and age classes.”
Georgia collected eggs from fish in Wisconsin in 2002 and released them in the Coosa River to try and kickstart the population again. They have continued to do that almost every year since. Officials began the reintroduction of lake sturgeon after the passing of the Clean Water Act, and it finally seems to be working.
“It’s a big investment because you don’t even know if the stocked fish are going to survive, let alone grow up and reproduce,” he said. “There’s been a lot of questions about long-term survival, growth rates, and when these fish would become sexually mature—and we’re on the verge of determining if these fish are going to successfully reproduce.”
The survival rate of the introduced fish was low, but by using implanted PIT tags in the fish, Hamel and other researchers have been able to follow the success story in real time. Lake sturgeon can grow up to 9 feet long and be 310 pounds. Hamel and his team caught a 24-pound sturgeon during their study.
Hamel said, “This is the largest fish that anyone has documented on the Coosa River.”