The Yahoo News , 21 June 2006

Maine scientists catch endangered sturgeon

ORONO, Maine - University of Maine scientists have caught nearly a dozen endangered shortnose sturgeon in the Penobscot River in the past week, representing the first confirmed sightings of the fish in the river since 1978.

Eleven fish were caught in a gill net and released in waters off Winterport downriver from Bangor. Five of the 11 fish were implanted with transmitters to allow researchers to track their movements in the river.

Michael Kinnison, a University of Maine biological sciences professor, said the discovery suggests that the river may be on the rebound after suffering from loss of fishing habitat and poor water quality conditions over the past century.

"One or two fish could represent strays from another river system, but the numbers we are now encountering bode well for a remnant shortnose population that spawns somewhere in the Penobscot," Kinnison said.

The shortnose sturgeon, which has been listed as endangered since 1967, is most often found in rivers; it can live for more than 30 years and grow to 25 pounds or more. The related Atlantic sturgeon, which split their lives between river systems and coastal ocean waters, can grow to eight feet in length and to more than 300 pounds.

The first fish was caught last week by graduate student Steve Fernandes during a scientific survey of the river. The survey is part of a research project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to learn more about Atlantic sturgeon in the Penobscot River.

During the next four days, Fernandes and other researchers caught 10 additional fish, ranging from 30 to 42 inches.

While there are documented populations of shortnose sturgeon in the Kennebec and St. John rivers in Maine, the discovery of the fish in the Penobscot is an important milestone both for the fish and the river, Kinnison said.

The sturgeon family is among the most primitive of the bony fishes. Sturgeons are often called "living fossils" and have remained relatively unchanged for millions of years.