By Patrick Whittle, The Associated Press
Washington Post news story
An endangered species of sturgeon has rediscovered habitat that could be a key to improving the fish’s reproduction, University of Maine scientists say.
The shortnose sturgeon, listed as endangered for nearly 50 years, has returned to the portion of the Penobscot River that is beyond the former Veazie Dam, which was removed in 2013, the scientists said. The sturgeon had not been seen in the area for more than 100 years, the university said.
The shortnose sturgeon is among the most primitive of the bony fishes, and its population was devastated by overfishing, pollution and other threats.
The fish still have not been observed spawning in the Penobscot River, and scientists believe they need to go farther upstream to spawn, University of Maine marine science professor Gayle Zydlewski said. Living in a river during winter can be a precursor to spawning the following spring.
“If there is suitable habitat, will they use it? This is kind of big for that potential,” Zydlewski said.
Researchers said they had implanted sturgeon with small sound-emitting devices to see whether they would utilize the newly accessible parts of the river. The researchers confirmed evidence of three female shortnose sturgeon in those waters in mid-October. About 20 of the 1,000 shortnose sturgeon that live in the Penobscot during winter are tagged, Zydlewski said.
The fish, endangered throughout their range, live along the East Coast and spawn in coastal rivers from New Brunswick, Canada, to Florida, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The removal of the Veazie Dam was part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project, which aims to restore all of the sturgeon’s historic habitat in the river.