Hunter Reardon has a great piece on Atlantic sturgeon in the James River in the most recent issue of Richmond Magazine. It’s a bit on the long side, but well worth the time if you’ve followed the return of these prehistoric Richmond natives to the James River.
VCU sturgeon researcher Matt Balazik with a beast in the James. Credit: Chuck Fredericksburg/JRA
Among the interesting tidbits Reardon included:
…the prehistoric fish has managed to avoid destruction, extinction and radical evolution since the Triassic Period. Two hundred million years ago, the first ray-finned fish appeared, and since the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the physical qualities of the sturgeon have remained basically unchanged.
When it formed so many millennia ago, it was built without teeth of any kind; instead, it feeds by sucking up food from the floor, like a 300-pound vacuum cleaner.
John Smith, for his part, declared that the river contained more sturgeon “than could be devoured by dog or man.”
At the turn of the 19th century, the sturgeon was not in high demand. The fish was considered a nuisance at best, and no Richmond residents hunted it for food. There was no demand for fish eggs among Southern folks, and there were far better fish to fry. In the 1850s, however, immigrants began to arrive from Russia and Eastern Europe. These new settlers were used to catching Atlantic and beluga sturgeon on the Baltic Sea, and they brought with them a knack for cooking and an appetite for caviar.
Bald eagles may be the most visible sign of the recovery of the James River over the past 40 years, but the story of the Atlantic sturgeon is just as dramatic. Click here to read the article.