Shortnosed sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum. Author: Karen Couch, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Last summer, just below the Fairmount Dam on the Schuylkill River, an angler managed to catch a shortnose sturgeon, a species of fish that has been on the endangered species list since 1967! While sometimes found in the Delaware River, the shortnose sturgeon has never been found in the Schuylkill—at least not on record. PWD regularly samples fish in the Schuylkill and in their 14 years of sampling below the dam, they have not seen this species.
Spotting this shortnosed sturgeon not only indicates that the species could be coming back, it also indicates that the water quality of the Schuylkill is improving. Researchers have long used levels of dissolved oxygen to gauge water quality—oxygen deficient water is not good for aquatic life. The sturgeon is extremely sensitive to low levels of dissolved oxygen, so finding one in the Schuylkill indicates that the dissolved oxygen levels are on the rise.
If you’re lucky enough to catch a sturgeon, remember it is a protected species and that you should quickly return it to the water. To learn more about the shortnosed sturgeon and other species (not all good!) that inhabit the Schuylkill River, check out this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.