Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Today on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom we explore the little-known world of the sturgeon, an elusive and mysterious sea creature, not so little-known and mysterious to most people but most definitely to Chesapeake Bay Woman.

Yesterday's story about 80 pounds of roe from a 400-pound sturgeon sounded a little crazy to me. Sure, I can imagine catching a 400-pounder on some deep-sea fishing nightmare trip off of Hatteras or out in the Gulf Stream on some charter boat rigged with commercial-grade fishing equipment.

But a 400-pound fish around here? Caught in a pound net?

(Did you notice how I toss in the term "Gulf Stream" as if I know what in the tackle box I'm talking about even though I don't?)

What exactly is a sturgeon?

As usual, when I don't know the answer, I turn to my old friend the magic eight ball Wikipedia:

"One of the oldest families of bony fish in existence, they are native to subtropical, temperate and sub-Arctic rivers, lakes and coastlines of Eurasia and North America. They are distinctive for their elongated bodies, lack of scales, and occasional great size: Sturgeons ranging from 7–12 feet (2-3½ m) in length are common, and some species grow up to 18 feet (5.5 m). Most sturgeons are anadromous bottom-feeders, spawning upstream and feeding in river deltas and estuaries. While some are entirely freshwater, very few venture into the open ocean beyond near coastal areas.

Several species of sturgeons are harvested for their roe, which is made into caviar - a luxury good which makes some sturgeons pound for pound the most valuable of all harvested fish.* Because they are slow-growing and mature very late in life, they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and to other threats, including pollution and habitat fragmentation. Most species of sturgeons are currently considered either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered."

Next up, we have this bit of information from my new BFF, from March 2003:

"When settlers arrived at Jamestown, the first “cash crop” they sent back to England was caviar harvested from Chesapeake Bay sturgeon.

The giant fish — the largest, longest-lived species native to the Bay — have a long and colorful history here: Early settlers reported that natives would test their bravery by lassoing a sturgeon by the tail and trying to hang on until the fish was tired.

During the Revolutionary War, an American soldier was killed while rowing across the Potomac when a giant sturgeon jumped out of the water and landed in his boat.

But the sturgeon were overfished in the late 1800s, and their population never recovered — no sturgeon are known to have spawned in Maryland for decades, and there are only sporadic reports of spawning in Virginia."

* Now we know why the fisherman in yesterday's story must have been thrilled to have caught a 400-pound sturgeon in his pound net, even though I'm still struggling with the concept of catching a 400-pound fish in a pound net. However, I know as much about the capacity of pound nets as I do the Gulf Stream.

** The more I hear about this Loch Ness Monster beast called the sturgeon, the fishier the tall fish tales smell. Or rather, the taller the smelly fish tales grow. Or, how about how do we know for certain that a Revolutionary-era soldier was killed by a single fish landing in his boat and not something else? Perhaps he just drifted out into the Gulf Stream.

Or got caught in a pound net.

Does anybody know anything about sturgeon? Can a 400-pound fish become trapped in a pound net? I understand the concept of pound nets (click here for some background) but struggle with the fact that 400 pounds of monster would make its way into one. Aren't pound nets usually located close to shore? Does this mean that I need to worry about 400 pounds of killer fish picking his teeth with my spinal cord the next time I go swimming in the bay?


Grandma J said...

I'm so glad you straightened me out about sturgeon because I always thought they were birds. Geesh, now that I've announced it to the world, I feel more stupid than before......

Yes, Margaret is wearing a chip clip on her shawl. Classy isn't she?

Ann Marie said...

the answer is yes... yes.. and well yes. HOWEVER.. some pound nets are off shore which is where they probably caught it.

I will tell ya this.. they are UGLY.

Noe Noe Girl...A Queen of all Trades. said...

Well this is certainly one fish tale I wont forget!

Caution Flag said...

It really killed the R.W. soldier? I hope his kids got lifetime caviar as a token of appreciation from General Washington's army.

big hair envy said...

I've never trusted anadromous bottom-feeders. You never know WHAT they're going to do next.

Mental P Mama said...

I think the whole thing is fishy.

Daryl said...

Maybe the net cost him a pound .. just sayin.

And when you come visit we're going to Zabars to get your some smoked sturgeon or maybe to Sturgeon King ... or maybe Barney Greengrass .. we dont have a lot of sturgeon in the Hudson or East Rivers but we have a lot of Jews who love smoked sturgeon . on a bagel with a smear of butter

Mrs F with 4 said...

I have no idea about any of it!

Yes, that was helpful, I know. My brain is addled by seven days of mother visiting...

wv: xessess: I am suffering from an xessess of conversation.

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

Did someone say "fish"?

Country Girl said...

Yeah, sturgeons is ug-leeeeee. Ugly. Just sayin'.
This one actually looks purty:

Anonymous said...

Sturgeon are anadromous, which means that they migrate upriver, so yes they could have been caught fairly close to shore.

There's a very small population that still spawns in the James. They are very rare, which makes them difficult to study. Sad, because they were VERY plentiful before the colonists arrived.

These days pound nets are pretty rare too....


foolery said...

Lots of sturgeon in the Sacramento River, near me. They are HUGE. Google sturgeon images and you'll get an eyeful!

Jamie said...

I know this is a day late and a few dollars short but... Sturgeon spawn in rivers and creeks. In Deltaville (where I spend my time) there is a Sturgeon Creek which was named for said fish (I stay on Sturgeon Creek). I was lucky to see one as a kid, big suckers, thought it was a great white (I did say I wasa kid). Saw some in the Potomac last year- thought it was Chessie

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