Gulf sturgeon caught on Pearl River near Jackson before construction of the Ross Barnett Dam. Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science Library.Gulf Restoration Network and allies like the Steps Coalition have been raising questions for years about the proposed Port of Gulfport. How will it and associated projects impact nearby communities? The coastal and marine environment? In official comments submitted nearly two years ago, GRN requested that the Port and Army Corps investigate the effects of channel deepening on Gulf sturgeon habitat. At a recent community meeting organized by the Steps Port Campaign Coalition, Port Authority President Lenny Sawyer announced a two year Gulf sturgeon survey by the Corps of Engineers and fish biologists from the University of Southern Mississippi. It is good to see our comments heeded by the Corps of Engineers.
The Gulf sturgeon is an incredible yet threatened species. Gulf sturgeon can grow up to eight feet in length and their bony plates and hard, extended snout give them a prehistoric look. Every summer, the sturgeon are known to leap from the water (some scientists believe it is an effort to communicate and maintain group cohesion), sometimes leading to boater-sturgeon interactions that aren’t so good for either party.
The Gulf sturgeon populations of the Pascagoula and Pearl River systems are well studied, and fish movements have been followed through the use of electronic tags in several research efforts over the last 15 years. Sturgeon spawning takes place in the river systems. Eggs hatch in fresh water and larvae develop there into juveniles. Young sturgeon from the Pascagoula and Pearl leave the rivers and move into the Mississippi Sound where they range widely and feed mainly on benthic (bottom-dwelling) invertebrates. The Corps study will involve tracking tagged fish through the use of sonic tags and a network of receiver buoys that pick up signals from the moving fish. Tagged sturgeon can be tracked as they move through the Mississippi Sound and the island passes.
It is absolutely essential to study the Port’s impact on the threatened Gulf sturgeon to ensure no plans are acted on that could potentially lead to significant harm or even the extinction of this important and majestic species.
Andrew is GRN's Assistant Director of Science and Water Policy.