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Scientists searched the James near the downtown area but found no fish nor eggs.
Virginia Commonwealth University sturgeon researcher Matt Balazik helped catch an 8-foot, 220-pound sturgeon in the James River in Richmond earlier this month.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
RICHMOND — Two scientists snorkeled in the James River in downtown Richmond on Friday seeking evidence that submarine behemoths called Atlantic sturgeons are breeding in the city.
Looking along the Mayo Bridge — where several witnesses spotted 6- and 7-footers last September — the scientists found blue crabs, fishing lures and an antique-looking lock, but no monster fish or their eggs.
It’s clear that some sturgeons swim well into Richmond. There are good reports of the fish being spotted as far upriver as Bosher’s Dam several miles to the northwest. But evidence from electronic monitors and other sources indicates the most likely spawning area is around Presquile National Wildlife Refuge near Hopewell.
“That’s where I think the bulk of the magic is happening,” said Virginia Commonwealth University sturgeon researcher Matt Balazik after leaving the river Friday.
Michael Odom, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, searched the James with Balazik.
The bone-plated, -docile James River sturgeons have a network of fans and their own Facebook page. Scientists want to discover their spawning area to better protect them.
Nearly 200 sturgeons in the river carry transmitters implanted by scientists. An underwater sensor that Balazik checked Friday showed that just one of those fish, a 6-footer, had swum near the Mayo Bridge this month, on Sept. 18. A handful of fish 5 ½ to 6 ½ feet long triggered the sensor in late August.
A decade ago, some experts said sturgeons were virtually extinct in the James. But in recent years, scientists have found evidence that the big fish continue to visit the James to breed. Sturgeons, which can top 14 feet in length, live in the ocean most of the time.
Balazik catches and releases James River sturgeons to get a sense of their numbers, among other things. He caught a 9-foot-long fish last year near Hopewell. He believes there are still some 10- to 12-footers in the murky James.
Balazik said he is making a special net designed to land a monster fish next year.
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