Florida Gulf Sturgeon

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In Florida, wildlife officials are urging boaters to be safe while having a good time, especially around sturgeon on the Suwannee River.

To date, there have been four reported sturgeon encounters in 2011, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“So far, two people have been injured in encounters with these big fish,” according to Maj. Lee Beach, law enforcement commander for the FWC’s North Central Region.

In 2006, FWC officials began a public-awareness campaign to alert boaters to the risks of jumping sturgeon.

What are Gulf sturgeon?

Florida’s Suwannee River supports a large population of Gulf sturgeon. Biologists estimate the annual population at 10,000-14,000 fish, averaging approximately 40 pounds each.

Adult fish spend eight to nine months each year in the river spawning and three to four of the coolest months in Gulf waters.

Gulf sturgeon can get quite big, exceeding 8 feet and 200 pounds. State and federal laws protect sturgeon, and harvests of these fish is not allowed.

Why do Gulf sturgeon jump?

Theories include that the fish jump to communicate or as a dominance display.

Do sturgeon attack people?

“I have seen these encounters referred to as ‘attacks.’  However, these fish are in no way attacking when they jump,” said Allen Martin, regional freshwater fisheries biologist. “They are simply doing what they have been doing for millions of years: jumping. They aren’t targeting the boaters,” he said.

What is the best way to avoid a collision with a Gulf sturgeon?

“We recommend boaters reduce their speed to reduce the risk of impact and to give people more time to react if they do encounter a jumping sturgeon,” Beach said. “The FWC also recommends that all boaters wear their life jackets.”

“If anyone is involved in an incident with a jumping sturgeon, please report it to the FWC. With the data received, we can get a better overall view of where the fish are jumping and get the word out to the public,” Beach said. To report sturgeon collisions, call 888-404-FWCC (3922).

For more information about the Gulf sturgeon, go to MyFWC.com/Research and click on “Saltwater.”