Sturgeon Research @ VIMS

  • Sturgeon
    Sturgeon  VIMS scientists are currently studying sturgeon populations in the James and York river systems, historically important spawning grounds for this species in Chesapeake Bay.  Photo by David Malmquist
  • Cleared and Stained
    Cleared and Stained  This juvenile white sturgeon ({em}Acipenser transmontanus{/em}) has been cleared and stained to make its skeletal elements more visible for taxonomic analysis. Image courtesy of Katie-May Laumann.  
  • Sturgeon Dissection
    Sturgeon Dissection  Sam Prince holds a vial for professor Eric Hilton as he collects a piece of sturgeon tissue for later genetic analysis. Looking on are Dr. Matt Balazik of VCU and VIMS Ph.D student Adela Roa-Varon. Photo by David Malmquist.  
  • Sturgeon Outreach
    Sturgeon Outreach  VIMS graduate student Lauren Nys shows the skull of an Atlantic sturgeon to an interested family in the VIMS booth at Hampton Bay Days. Photo by Hadley McIntosh.  
  • Large Sturgeon
    Large Sturgeon  An adult Atlantic sturgeon from the Pamunkey River that is almost 6-feet long (1.98 meters). Sturgeon assume this belly-up position when put under the electrical anesthesia used when inserting acoustic tags. Electrical anesthesia is less stressful to the fish than the chemical anesthesia previously used.  Photo by Ashleigh Magee
  • Tagging Sturgeon
    Tagging Sturgeon  VIMS researcher Pat McGrath surgically implants an acoustic tag into a juvenile sturgeon to gain information on its location and movement.  Photo by David Malmquist
  • Collaborative Effort
    Collaborative Effort  Watermen George Trice (L) and Jerry Parks (R) check their gill net for sturgeon. VIMS' current tagging program is part of a NOAA-funded partnership that includes Trice and scientists from VCU, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, UMCES, and Maryland's DNR.  Photo by David Malmquist
  • Sturgeon Research
    Sturgeon Research  Dr. Eric Hilton holds a shovelnose sturgeon ({em}Scaphirhynchus platorynchus{/em}) from the Missouri River.  Photo by Casey Dillman.
  • Sturgeon Mouth
    Sturgeon Mouth  Atlantic sturgeon have sensitive barbels and a protusible mouth that they use for eating bottom-dwelling invertebrates such as mollusks, worms, and crustaceans.  Photo by David Malmquist.
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Sturgeon are an ancient group of fishes whose fossil record dates back at least 85 million years, to the time of the dinosaurs. But in just the past few hundred years, overfishing and habitat destruction have devastated sturgeon populations worldwide, with 16 of the 27 existing species of these "living fossils" listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Atlantic sturgeon can grow 14 feet long and weigh more than 600 pounds. Here, VIMS scientists Brian Watkins and Pat McGrath prepare to tag a 6-ft fish from the Pamunkey River. ©Ashleigh Magee.Sturgeon research at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) focuses on efforts to better understand the life history and habitat of the Atlantic sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus, whose adults inhabit coastal waters from Florida to Newfoundland and historically spawned in rivers all along the Atlantic seaboard. VIMS scientists are currently studying Acipenser populations in the James and York river systems, historically important spawning grounds for this species in Chesapeake Bay.

Knowledge gained by VIMS researchers and their state, federal, and private partners informs the recovery program for this species, whose Chesapeake Bay population was listed as endangered by NOAA Fisheries in 2012. You can assist in these efforts as a citizen-scientist by reporting evidence of a breaching sturgeon.

Research Projects
Sturgeon Tagging

VIMS scientists tag Atlantic sturgeon in the James and York river systems to gain information on their location and movement and thus help identify essential habitat. VIMS' current tagging program is part of a collaborative, 3-year partnership funded by NOAA that includes waterman George Trice and scientists from Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences, and Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and others.

Spawning Habitat

Researchers in the Center for Coastal Resources Management at VIMS used sidescan sonar and underwater videography to scout the James River for potential spawning habitat for Atlantic sturgeon—freshwater stretches with a gravelly bottom, rapid currents, and ample oxygen.

Sturgeon Biology

Laboratory studies at VIMS of the taxonomy, genetics, and developmental biology of Acipenser and other sturgeon species aid international efforts to accurately classify and manage these ancient fishes.

Bycatch Reduction

Local watermen partner with VIMS researchers on field trials of fishing gear that is designed to reduce the incidental capture, or bycatch, of Atlantic sturgeon in fisheries for striped bass and other species. Funding for these trials comes from the Fishery Resource Grant Program, which is administered by the Marine Advisory Services and Virginia Sea Grant programs at VIMS.

More research projects

Sturgeon breach reports as of July 15, 2014