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published on 06/10/2008

Pilot Program Returns Lake Sturgeon to the Cumberland River

Communications Manager Tennessee Aquarium & IMAX Theater

When Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials were informed a recreational fisherman had hooked a lake sturgeon in Kentucky Lake, they were somewhat skeptical. After all, the only lake sturgeon in the Tennessee River system were ones reintroduced by the Tennessee Aquarium into the French Broad River near Knoxville some 550 miles from the reported catch. The previous long distance sturgeon report was confirmed in Lake Guntersville in Alabama.

TWRA officials and the Tennessee Aquarium were very excited when a second fisherman had reported catching a lake sturgeon in Kentucky Lake. This time a biologist from TWRA was able to confirm the catch with the fisherman who remembered his lake sturgeon touch tank experience at the Tennessee Aquarium. “We are very excited about these catches because it tells us the fish are thriving throughout the entire river drainage. And if they can make it to Kentucky Lake, then one day some of these fish may find their way into the Mississippi River,” said Dr. Anna George, the Tennessee Aquarium’s chief research scientist. In addition to the three long-distance swimmers at Kentucky Lake, fishermen continue to report hooking the fish up and down the Tennessee River between Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Over 60,000 lake sturgeon have been reintroduced in the Tennessee River watershed since the Tennessee Aquarium and working partners began the Saving the Sturgeon program in 1998. “Lake sturgeon are a very important part of a healthy ecosystem. Bald eagles and osprey are known to eat these fish as well as a number of other fish like bass. So not only are we restoring a single species, we are also taking a big step towards restoring the entire Tennessee River ecosystem,” said Dr. George.

The Saving the Sturgeon program will begin a pilot project on the Cumberland River near Gallatin, TN. Dr. George will transport a truckload of lake sturgeon fingerlings, hatched in spring 2007, from the Tennessee Aquarium’s Research Institute in Cohutta, Georgia to TWRA partners in Middle Tennessee. Half of the 600 fish will be held at TWRA’s fish hatchery for further growth. The remaining 300 sturgeon will be introduced into the Cumberland River near the Gallatin TVA Steam Plant. “TWRA has chosen this release site because it has large rocks, which are similar habitat to what the sturgeon have been observed to use in Wisconsin where these fish are hatched,” Dr. George said.

With a little luck, these six to twelve-inch lake sturgeon will flourish in the Cumberland River as well as their program counterparts have in the Tennessee River. “We are starting small with this pilot, but we will have more releases in this area as we see successes,” Dr. George said.
Lake Sturgeon are endangered in the state of Tennessee, so it is illegal to keep them. If you do catch one, please be careful with the fish—avoid holding them by their tail and remember that they need to be in the water to breathe! Fishermen can report a sturgeon by calling the toll-free number for their TWRA regional office, or the Fisheries Management Division at . Fisherman who call in with some basic information (estimated weight and length, depth of catch and location), will get a Lake Sturgeon Certificate of Appreciation.

Anyone wishing to help support the Saving the Sturgeon program may call (423) 267-FISH. Tax-deductible contributions ensure continued growth for the Tennessee Aquarium’s conservation and research efforts. The Tennessee Aquarium is a non-profit institution.

The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $19.95 per adult and $12.95 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $8.50 per adult and $6.00 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $25.95 for adults and $17.95 for children. Advance tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 1-. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. Call 267-FISH to join.

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