Rarely seen fish return to river near Jackson, Mississippi

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This photo is not of the same fish that traveled 200 miles. The Gulf Sturgeon is endangered in Mississippi and several studies are underway on the Pearl River to help revive the species.

Photo Dr. Michael Andres, University of Southern Mississippi

For the first time in 25 years, a Gulf sturgeon was detected in the Pearl River in Jackson, Mississippi.

Conservationists celebrated the news on social media, noting that the fish was both big – at 5ft long – and had somehow found its way over the dam at Jackson Waterworks.

“The last confirmed sighting of Gulf sturgeon in the Jackson area was in 1996,” the nonprofit Pearl Riverkeeper wrote in a Jan. 13 post.

“The Gulf sturgeon…lives in salt water but swims up freshwater rivers to spawn. The two low-head dams on the Pearl River are barriers to their natural migration and spawning patterns.

So how did he get over the dam?

River Guardian Abby Braman suspect it happened during a flood.

“During periods of heavy rain, the Jackson Waterworks spillway can become overwhelmed,” she told McClatchy News. “Even though the weir is only partially submerged, sturgeon are very powerful fish that tend to jump out of the water.”

The 17-year-old fish was detected by researchers last year via a tag from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, officials said. The tag was affixed to the fish in 2017 while it was near the mouth of the river.

That means it traveled about 200 miles upstream before being detected at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park in Jackson, Braman says.

The Gulf sturgeon is often called “living dinosaur” because their appearance has remained largely unchanged for 200 million years, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It is well armored with rows of heavy plates which give it a threatening appearance, but it is actually not an aggressive species, preferring to linger near the bottom of rivers and oceans,” the service reports.

“With a tail like a shark, whiskers like a catfish, and a tube-like mouth protruding from the bottom of its head…the sturgeon has been called both ugly and beautiful.”

Scientists are conducting several studies on the Gulf Sturgeon along the Pearl River with the aim of bringing about a recovery of the species.

This story was originally published January 14, 2022 3:17 p.m.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering topics including schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a major in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.

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