A team of researchers netting Atlantic sturgeon in order to study their seasonal habits in the Penobscot River in eastern Maine caught a nice suprise last week- a rare shortnose sturgeon. And the fish was no loner- over the next four days, University of Maine graduate researcher Steve Fernandez and his team caught 10 more shortnose sturgeons ranging in size between 30 and 40 inches.
"Our research is actually designed to find Atlantic sturgeon, but what a bonus," said Fernandes.
The Penobscot River is believed to encompass important habitat used by both Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon, and to have historically supported populations of both species. While Atlantic sturgeon populations have reamined relatively healthy, the shortnose has been on the endangered species list since 1967.
The team has placed acoustic tags inside five of the shortnose sturgeons. Fish with the acoustic tags can now be tracked by both portable receivers and a series of moored receivers already operating on the river. The fish are the first recorded catch of shortnose sturgeon in the river since 1978.
"One or two fish could represent strays from another river system, but the numbers we are now encountering bodes well for a remnant shortnose population that spawns somewhere in the Penobscot. It's great!" said Dr. Mike Kinnison of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maine in Orono.
Kinnison co-directs the project with Dr. Gayle Zydlewski of the university's School of Marine Sciences, in collaboration with local NOAA and USGS personnel.