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Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 8:01 pm

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will have its second release of lake sturgeon in the Cumberland River which will be held Friday, April 17 at Shelby Park near downtown Nashville.

The event is open to the public and is set to begin at 11 a.m. at the Shelby Bottoms Nature Center with a welcome, introductions, a brief history of lake sturgeon and comments from members of the organizations that are helping with the project. At 11:30, those in attendance will move to the Shelby Park Boat Ramp and the release will begin at 11:35 and is expected to take about 25 minutes to complete.

The second major release follows the inaugural release of almost 1,100 lake sturgeon that were reintroduced to the Cumberland River in 2006 as part of a plan to duplicate the successful reintroduction of lake sturgeon into the upper Tennessee River near Knoxville. 

Since 2000, a collaboration of government and non-profit organizations have worked to return nearly 70,000 lake sturgeon to the upper Tennessee River. 

This release will have 75 lake sturgeon stocked into the Cumberland River that were grown to a much larger size at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Gallatin Steam Plant Hatchery to improve their chance of survival. They will range in size from 18 to 30 inches. The lake sturgeon stocked into the Cumberland initially were obtained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as eggs from Wisconsin.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and TVA have been working with TWRA to restore the Gallatin Steam Plant Hatchery so it can be used to hold and grow lake sturgeon and freshwater mussels as part of several species restoration efforts. 

“We have already seen success in lake sturgeon restoration efforts on the Tennessee River,” said Kenny Mullinax, Plant Manager, Gallatin Fossil Plant. “As a fellow steward of the Cumberland River watershed, TVA understands the importance of programs like this. We are glad to be a partner in returning lake sturgeon to the Cumberland and look forward to its success.”

These partners are not only returning lake sturgeon to a portion of their native range, they are also monitoring the new populations and working with local communities to follow their progress throughout these waterways.

“Lake sturgeon are large fish and some individuals can grow to eight feet in length,” said George Scholten, Reservoir Fisheries Coordinator for TWRA.  “They are powerful swimmers that have been known to travel long distances after being stocked.  We have received several reports from anglers who caught lake sturgeon below Nickajack Dam.

 “These fish had to pass downstream through four dams and travel nearly 250 miles from the stocking site to reach the area where the anglers caught and released them. That is really remarkable and we appreciate the accurate reporting of this fish.”

 Angler reports help the TWRA and its partners to monitor the success of their reintroduction efforts.

Lake sturgeon once flourished in eastern North America, ranging from Canada as far south as Alabama and Georgia.  "Lake sturgeon live longer than any other North American freshwater fish–up to 150 years old," said Dr. Anna George, Director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, one of the organizations working with TWRA.  “But they also mature slowly and don’t reproduce until they are teenagers.  That means that they have a harder time naturally recovering if their population declines.” 

The combination of poor water quality, habitat loss, and unregulated commercial fisheries led to the loss of sturgeon from Tennessee waters in the 1960s.

Now, however, things are looking up for this prehistoric fish.  Changes in the operation of Corps dams on the Cumberland River and TVA dams on the Tennessee River have led to better water quality in these rivers that can support more diverse communities of fish, including lake sturgeon.

 "During the past 10 years, the Corps has retrofitted nine hydropower turbines with hub baffles and supplemental air supply lines to greatly improve the oxygen level of water released from Wolf Creek, Dale Hollow, and Center Hill Dams," said LTC Bernard R. Lindstrom, Commander of the Nashville USACE District.  “Additionally, during the past two years, lake level restrictions at Wolf Creek and Center Hill have required Corps water managers to employ innovative techniques to sustain aquatic life in the Cumberland River."

Those techniques have included releasing water through spillway gates in lieu of through the hydropower turbines to boost oxygen levels.  This unprecedented effort by the Corps to protect fish and aquatic life during a critical period was recognized by the Tennessee Chapter of the American Fisheries Society last year when they presented the Corps with their “Friends of Fisheries” award. 

“Another one of the major reasons we can even think about stocking sturgeon back into the Cumberland here in Nashville is that Metro Water has worked diligently to separate storm water and sewage flows which resulted in 33 miles of the river being taken off the state impaired streams list" explained Margo Farnsworth from the Cumberland River Compact.  “The Cumberland River is the front door of Nashville and we’re very proud to be working with TWRA to re-establish the lake sturgeon.”

The Cumberland River Compact has been the quiet force behind many of the water quality improvement efforts that were necessary to restore the river to a point where it could sustain lake sturgeon. 

The ultimate goal of this program is to restore reproducing populations of lake sturgeon to Tennessee, allowing a managed sport fishery with robust giants that will test the tackle of future anglers.

“Every angler dreams of a rod-bending fight with a monster fish,” said Scholten.  “And someday soon, fishermen on the Cumberland River may be telling stories about hooking a lengthy lake sturgeon.”

For more information on this and future lake sturgeon releases, please visit or


Notes if you catch a lake sturgeon

Lake sturgeon are endangered in Tennessee and must be released.  If you catch a lake sturgeon:

– Be as careful as possible not to harm the fish.

– Avoid holding lake sturgeon by their tails

– Remember that fish cannot breathe while they are out of the water. 

– After release, please contact TWRA (your regional office or the Fish Management Division at 615-781-6575) to report your catch. 

You will be asked to provide your name, address, and phone number and the following information about your catch:

-When and where you caught the lake sturgeon.

– The approximate length of the fish.

– What you were using for bait. 

If you can take a picture without harming the fish, these are helpful also. In appreciation of your report, TWRA will issue a numbered Lake Sturgeon Certificate that features a color reproduction of a lake sturgeon drawn by renowned wildlife artist Joseph R. Tomelleri.

Posted 4.14.09