New Sturgeon Spawning Reef in the Lower James
Strategically placing a few tons of rock in the river today could mean more Atlantic sturgeon in the James River in the future. The James River Association and Virginia Commonwealth University have constructed the first artificial sturgeon spawning reef in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the entire East Coast.
Luck Stone Corporation generously donated 2,500 yards of rock, which they barged and placed at the designated location near the mouth of the Turkey Island Cut, a shipping channel that separates Presquile NWR from the south bank of the James River near Hopewell. The artificial reef, which measures 330 feet long, 70 feet wide and 2 feet high was funded by a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The construction of the stone reef marks a milestone in a scientific partnership that has involved years of tracking and studying the James River’s small, but genetically distinct, population of Atlantic sturgeon.
The sturgeon population was all but wiped out by overfishing in the late 1800s. Many other factors have prevented its numbers from rebounding. These factors include increased silting from dredging and stormwater runoff that reduced the areas of hard rocky bottom required for successful spawning, pollution, and the death of mature adult sturgeon due to by-catch and vessel strikes. The newly constructed reef serves as an experiment to bring back a once prominent native species to the James River.
The reef placement was determined by years of tracking adult sturgeon in the James River, studies of optimum spawning conditions, water movement and oxygen content. Atlantic sturgeon and other anadromous fish that return to the James to spawn will benefit from this clean, rocky river bottom. The reef will be periodically monitored for the presence of eggs. Because young sturgeon typically remain in the vicinity of their birth for the first 1 to 3 years of life, it will be easier to evaluate the new reef’s success. Waiting will be the hardest part!
Reef created to help save sturgeon in the James River
NBC Channel 12