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Lake Sturgeon make historic return
to French Broad River

Contacts:
Kathie Fulgham, Tennessee Aquarium, 423 785-3007
Wendy Smith, World Wildlife Fund, Southeast Rivers and Streams Project, 615 584-5382
Barbara Martocci, TVA, 865 632-8632
Hilary Vincent, USFW, 828 258-3939 x234


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (July 19, 2000) - Longfellow called them the "king of fishes" and at 11 a.m. on Wednesday July 19, they began a historic comeback in the French Broad River below Douglas Dam. The Lake Sturgeon reintroduction project is a result of a unique partnership among federal, state, and non-profit partners. These partners have agreed to work together over the next 25 years to reestablish the rich aquatic life that once existed here, including self-sustaining populations of freshwater mussels, snails and fishes such as Lake Sturgeon.

The partners in this project include the Southeast Aquatic Research Institute, the Tennessee Aquarium, TVA, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the World Wildlife Fund's Southeast Rivers and Streams Project.

"The World Wildlife Fund recognizes the Tennessee River Basin as the most diverse aquatic place in the world," said Wendy Smith, director of WWF's Southeast Rivers and Streams Project. "Being able to reintroduce Lake Sturgeon into the Tennessee River system is an exciting good news story for everyone in the region."

Sam Hamilton, the southeast regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sees this effort as a great example of good science and good stewardship coming together. Hamilton said, "This release would not be possible without improved water quality in the French Broad River as well as TVA's Reservoir Releases Improvement Program."

George Benz, director of the Southeast Aquatic Research Institute, said, "Working to reestablish a large native fish like the Lake Sturgeon is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the thought of someday seeing large sturgeon swimming in the Tennessee River system leaves me speechless." He went on to say, "It's unique partnerships that are facilitating this and other efforts to bring back native aquatic species."

Dick Biggins, fish and mussel recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Southeast, looks at the reintroduction of Lake Sturgeon as part of an overall effort. "Our goal," he said, "is to reestablish native aquatic species in the French Broad River and reestablish the Lake Sturgeon so that it does not need Endangered Species Act protection. Hopefully these efforts will establish a self-sustaining population that may eventually become a fishable resource."

Five years ago, Ed Scott, TVA aquatic biologist began observing a remarkable comeback of fish communities and aquatic insects in the French Broad River. "These biological improvements caught the attention of state, and federal agencies and have lead to these species reintroductions." He also noted that sport fishing is on the increase and there is a growing appreciation of the French Broad River as a recreational resource.

Lake Sturgeon are prized as a sport fish in other areas of the country where they are making a comeback. They can grow to almost eight feet in length and weigh about 300 pounds. In a recent National Public Radio story, a fisherman in Wisconsin told of a sturgeon dragging his boat over 4 miles. "Now that may be only a 'fish story,' said Smith of WWF, but as my grandfather used to say, If it isn't true, it should be!"

"It will be years before we know whether we have a sustainable population of Lake Sturgeon in the upper Tennessee River system, and this shows the importance of not losing species in the first place," said Gary Myers, of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. "The project includes a long-term monitoring study, through which sturgeon will be tagged and followed to learn more about their life history and preferred habitat. We hope that people who fish these waters will help us by releasing any Lake Sturgeon they catch and by letting us know where the fish was caught, as well as its condition and size."

If the project is successful and Lake Sturgeon thrive in the French Broad River, state law will protect the fish and regulate any sport fisheries that may develop.

"It is very rewarding to see water quality in the French Broad River below Douglas Dam improve to the point that reintroduction of Lake Sturgeon is possible," said Kate Jackson, executive vice president of river operations and environment at TVA. "But their survival also depends on what people do on the land. Soil erosion, illegal dumping, and run-off of chemicals from cars, trucks, lawns and farms continue to threaten water quality in the lower French Broad River. There are many things individuals can do to reduce these threats and keep the water clean for Lake Sturgeon and the human populations that depend on the Tennessee River as a drinking water source."


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