3rd-graders re­lease stur­geon into river

Ar­muchee Ele­men­tary stu­dents help re­store na­tive species

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By Doug Walker As­so­ci­ate Edi­tor DWalker@RN-T.com

Squeals and gig­gles were the or­der of the day as third-graders from Ar­muchee Ele­men­tary School re­leased close to a thou­sand lake stur­geon into the Oostanaula River on Thurs­day. Most of the fish were in the 4to 6-inch range though some that had been held over at state hatch­eries were 13-15 inches long. The lake stur­geon is a species na­tive to the lo­cal rivers but fished out of ex­is­tence half a cen­tury ago.

“It was heavy. It was hard,” said Ana­lyn Ra­poso af­ter us­ing a dip net to put one of the larger, year-old fish into the river at the boat ramp on Ga. 140. Even though it was heavy and hard, Ra­poso gig­gled and said it was bet­ter to be out­side with the fish than in the class­room.

The Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources has part­nered with a sis­ter agency in Wis­con­sin since 2002 to bring back a self-sus­tain­ing pop­u­la­tion of the fish for the past 16 years. Fer­til­ized eggs are brought to Ge­or­gia an­nu­ally from the Wolf River in Wis­con­sin.

Fish­eries Bi­ol­o­gist Jim Hakala, whose son Sam was one of the third graders putting the fish into the river, said the joy of watch­ing the kids with the fish made all of the days sit­ting in his of­fice do­ing pa­per­work worth it. “Maybe one day when th­ese kids get older, they will have mem­o­ries of this and help with the ef­fort to pro­tect and pre­serve the rivers,” Hakala said.

“It was so cool, I didn’t know stur­geon could be that long,” said Tris­tan Sex­ton. “And it’s only one year old?”

Lu­cas Ingram said the fins on the back of the stur­geon were “spik­ing” his hands. “When we tried to put them in the water they just swim,” said An­dri­ana Neal, per­haps not re­al­iz­ing that was ex­actly what the fish were sup­posed to do.

DNR Fish­eries Bi­ol­o­gist John Damer said some of the ear­li­est males re­leased in 2002 are right at the be­gin­ning of their breed­ing age, while the fe­males may still be a cou­ple of years away.

The fish that have been re­leased over the past 16 years gen­er­ally go as far south and west as the Weiss Dam and, dur­ing spawn­ing sea­son, travel back up the Etowah to the Thomp­son Wein­man Dam at Cartersville and all the way up the Oostanaula

sys­tem to the re-reg­u­la­tion dam at Carters Lake.

The largest fish that have been caught and re­leased thus far are about 4 feet long and weigh between 30 and 40 pounds.

Damer said the state is nowhere close to ready to open a sport fish­ing for the stur­geon, in­di­cat­ing the state needed solid ev­i­dence of a breed­ing pop­u­la­tion first.

Doug Walker / Rome News-Tri­bune

Ar­muchee third-grader Tris­tan Sex­ton shows off a lake stur­geon to a class­mate just be­fore re­leas­ing it into the Oostanaula River on Thurs­day. Young­sters from two classes at the school re­leased close to a thou­sand of the fish into the river.

Doug Walker / Rome News-Tri­bune

Ana­lyn Ra­poso (right), an Ar­muchee third-grader, re­coils slightly Thurs­day as DNR Fish­eries tech­ni­cian James Woolsey hands her a net with a 13-inch lake stur­geon.

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