The lake sturgeon was once found throughout eastern North America, as far south as the Tennessee River in Alabama. Due to overfishing, habitat destruction and alteration, lake sturgeon have been reduced to less than 1% of their original numbers. The last know lake sturgeon in the Tennessee River Basin was seen in Fort Loudon Reservoir in 1960. The lake sturgeon is listed as endangered within Tennessee waters.
In 1998, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and its partners agreed to restore lake sturgeon to the upper Tennessee River system and began a long-term restoration program. The goal of this program is to establish a self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon in the upper Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
The restoration begins with the collection of sturgeon eggs provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. These eggs are then hatched at the Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery and distributed as fry to three other hatcheries to be grown out to a minimum of 5 inches before they are released. At the Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute, a number of fish are kept until they are between 2 to 4 feet in length before they are released.
What You Can Do
Lake Stugeon are identified by the sharp, bony plates along their backs and sides, a shark-like tail, a sucker-like mouth, and four barbels or "whiskers" just in front of their mouths. Like sharks, sturgeon don't have bony support and their internal organs can be damaged when flopping around out of water. Handle the fish carefully, and release them promptly.
Remember: Lake sturgeon cannot be harvested and must be immediately released. Possession of lake sturgeon is against the law.
Since July 2000, over 120,000 lake sturgeon have been released into the upper Tennessee and Cumberland River system. If you observe a sturgeon, find a dead specimen, or accidentally catch one, please contact TWRA. Please provide your name and telephone number, where and when the fish was caught, its approxiamte size, and how it was caught.
TWRA provides a to anglers who have caught and released lake sturgeon. You can contact TWRA in Nashville at (615)781-6575 or the TWRA region 4 office listed below.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Region 4 Office
(423) 587-7037 or (800) 332-0900