Monday morning I got a call from Chris Hull, paddler and former president of the James River Outdoor Coalition. He said he and a fellow kayaker had seen a couple of Atlantic sturgeon in the James River from Mayo Bridge. To call this big news would be a severe understatement. These fish were once so plentiful in this area that Richmonders would spear them with pitchforks below Bosher’s Dam. But their population crashed here and elsewhere in the late 1800s due to overfishing. The females were prized for their eggs (caviar), and without eggs you get no succeeding generations. Considering the fish take 15-17 years to reach sexual maturity and only spawn every 3-5 years, it’s no surprise their stocks plummeted quickly and didn’t rebound.
But now they’re back. Not in the numbers they once were — not yet, anyway — but back, nevertheless. I went down to the Mayo Bridge around noon Wednesday and saw one, but by the time I ran back to my car and retrieved my camera, it was gone. On Monday evening I went back and found a crowd gathered. Mark Holmberg of CBS 6 was working on a sturgeon story. Mike Ostrander was there, as was his wife, Lynda Richardson, a freelance photographer. I stayed about 45 minutes without seeing another fish. After I left, Ostrander told me Ralph White and his wife Cricket showed up. Two minutes after that so did the sturgeon. Rex Springston and I wrote about this phenomenon in today’s T-D.
The pic above is the only one I know of that anyone has captured of a sturgeon in the fall line. Richardson took it from the bridge. The pic below is of a 9-footer caught by VCU researcher Matt Balazik in the James near Hopewell. It’s the largest one he’s caught and the one that proved — by releasing eggs when he pulled it up to the boat — that these federally endangered prehistoric beasts are spawning in the James in the fall.
If you have the time, go down to the Mayo Bridge and see if you can spot one. You won’t be disappointed.