Look-alike sturgeon may get protection

Oct 08, 2009 By Terry Hillig

Good news for shovelnose sturgeon may be bad news for this region's commercial fishermen, who sell them to make caviar.

The shovelnose are not endangered, but their relatives, the pallid sturgeon, are. Because a young pallid can be mistaken for a shovelnose, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed declaring the shovelnose a threatened species in areas where the two types overlap, giving it regulatory authority.

The areas include the Mississippi River from Alton downstream and the Missouri River from Montana to the Mississippi River. Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana ban all of shovelnose sturgeon.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said the commercial harvest of shovelnose in the Mississippi increased to 23,000 pounds in 2007 from about 6,600 pounds in 1995.

Sturgeon are a living link to the distant past. Experts say they first appeared about 150 million years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed Earth.

Rob Maher, a commercial fisheries biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the Mississippi River is the world's most abundant fishery for the shovelnose type.

They are used for their roe, or eggs, which are processed and sold as caviar. Demand for domestic roe surged after the near-depletion of European fisheries in the late 1990s. Prices shot up to $80 or more per pound but fell back to below $60 when the nation's economy tanked late last year.

It remains "a lucrative business for a very few people," said Dave Herzog, a resource specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. He said the state issued 18 licenses for roe harvest last year. Missouri has about 260 commercial ; Illinois has about 1,200.

The Fish and Wildlife Service bases its proposal on a section of the that authorizes protection of a species if its appearance is so similar to that of a protected or endangered species that law enforcement is difficult.

Pallid sturgeon can live for more than 40 years and weigh as much as 65 pounds. Shovelnose live about 20 years and seldom exceed 5 pounds. But young pallid sturgeon are difficult to distinguish from shovelnose. The shovelnose are said to outnumber the pallid variety 80-to-1.

"It's a pretty big deal," Maher said of the proposal. "We have a robust commercial fishery. It certainly would have an impact."

There is substantial commercial sturgeon fishing along the Mississippi from Wisconsin to Tennessee, as well as some areas of the Ohio and Wabash rivers. Experts said most sturgeon fishing in the Missouri River in Missouri is recreational.

Several years ago, Illinois restricted shovelnose fishing to a season from Oct. 1 to May 31. Missouri's season runs Oct. 15 to May 31.

Maher said he is not sure federal action is necessary.

"We have implemented effective management strategies," he said. Commercial fishermen must attend certification classes and demonstrate they can distinguish between pallid and shovelnose sturgeon. He said a fisherman who harvests a pallid sturgeon illegally loses eligibility for a state permit for three years, and faces additional federal penalties.

"There's a lot at stake," Maher said. "These guys are making pretty good money, and it would be foolish for them to jeopardize that."

Jim Garvey, director of the Fisheries and Illinois Aquaculture Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has been concerned about sturgeon populations in the for several years.

Garvey, who has studied the sturgeon for nearly a decade, said he believes the numbers of both types have fallen significantly as fishing has increased.

He said the proposed regulation would help the sturgeon populations recover but likely would mean more fishing for shovelnose on the Ohio and Wabash rivers and the Mississippi upstream from Alton, and probably increase roe fishing for paddlefish.

Garvey said pollution, dams and levees have had a greater impact on the pallid sturegon population than fishing.

He said he believes poaching of pallid sturgeon is rare. He said they are caught along with the shovelnose, but most fishermen do the right thing and put them back.

"I think most people are honest and conscientious," he said. "There are a few people who aren't and they make it more difficult for everyone."

The Fish and Wildlife Service will accept comments and scientific information regarding its proposal until Nov. 23.
___

(c) 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Visit the Post-Dispatch on the World Wide Web at www.stltoday.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: Stanford researchers rethink 'natural' habitat for wildlife

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Caviar demand threatens U.S. sturgeon

Dec 31, 2005

A shortage of the prized beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea has increased sales for caviar from the sturgeon of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

California reacts to sturgeon decline

Mar 22, 2006

California officials, having enacted emergency fishing rules to protect sturgeon, are considering long-term rules to become effective next year.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

20 hours ago

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Apr 18, 2014

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...