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Lake Sturgeon “King of Fishes” Reintroduced Back Into The French Broad River


July 19, 2000 Contact:

Tennessee Aquarium (more pictures and B-roll available) Kathie Fulgham, 423/ 785-3007

World Wildlife Fund, Southeast Rivers and Streams Project Wendy Smith, 615/ 269-0942

Tennessee Valley Authority Barbara Martocci, 865/ 632-8632

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Hilary Vinson 828/258-3939 ext.234


Knoxville, TN - Longfellow called them the “king of fishes” and on July 19, 2000, they began their historic comeback in the French Broad River below Douglas Dam. The Lake Sturgeon once occurred throughout Tennessee, but today are virtually non-existent in Tennessee except for rare occurrence in the Mississippi River. The Lake Sturgeon reintroduction project is a result of a unique partnership between federal, state, and non-profit partners. These partners have agreed to work together over the next 25 years to reestablish the rich aquatic life that once existed here, including self-sustaining populations of freshwater mussels, snails and fishes such as Lake Sturgeon.

The partners in this project include the Southeast Aquatic Research Institute of the Tennessee Aquarium, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the World Wildlife Fund’s Southeast Rivers and Streams Project.

“The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recognizes the Tennessee/Cumberland River Basin as the most diverse aquatic place in the world,” said Wendy Smith, Director of WWF’s Southeast Rivers and Streams Project. “Being able to reintroduce Lake Sturgeon into the Tennessee River system is an exciting good news story for everyone in the region.”

Sam Hamilton, the Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sees this effort as a great example of good science and good stewardship coming together “ This release would not be possible without the improved water quality in the French Broad River as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Reservoir Releases Improvement Program.” This program has improved flows and oxygen levels in more than 300 miles of rivers below TVA dams, including the French Broad River below Douglas Dam.

George Benz, Director of the Southeast Aquatic Research Institute, said, “Working to reestablish a large native fish like the Lake Sturgeon is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the thought of someday seeing large sturgeon swimming in the Tennessee River system leaves me speechless.” He went on to say, “It’s unique partnerships that are facilitating this and other efforts to bring back native aquatic species.”

“The reintroduction of the Lake Sturgeon is part of this overall effort,” said Dick Biggins, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our goal is to reestablish native aquatic species in the French Broad River and reestablish the Lake Sturgeon so that it does not need Endangered Species Act protection. Hopefully these efforts will establish a self-sustaining population that may eventually become a fishable resource.”

Lake Sturgeon are prized as a sport fish in other areas of the country where they are making a comeback. They can grow to almost eight feet long and weigh about 300 pounds. In a recent NPR story, a fisherman in Wisconsin told of a sturgeon dragging his boat over 4 miles. “Now that may be only a “fish story,” said Smith of WWF, but as my grandfather used to say, if it isn’t true, it should be!”

“It will be years before we know whether we have a sustainable population of Lake Sturgeon in the upper Tennessee River system, and this shows the importance of not losing species in the first place,” said Gary Myers, of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “The project includes a long-term monitoring study, through which sturgeon will be tagged and followed to learn more about their life history and preferred habitat. We hope that people who fish these waters will help us by releasing any Lake Sturgeon they catch and by letting us know where the fish was caught as well as its condition and size.”

“It is very rewarding to see water quality in the French Broad River below Douglas Dam improve to the point that reintroduction of Lake Sturgeon is possible,” said Kate Jackson, Executive Vice President of River Operations and Environment at TVA. “But their survival also depends on what people do on the land. Soil erosion, illegal dumping, and run-off of chemicals from cars, trucks, lawns and farms continue to threaten water quality in the lower French Broad River. There are many things individuals can do to reduce these threats and keep the water clean for Lake Sturgeon and other species that live in the Tennessee River system. Working together, we can all help to restore our natural heritage and protect aquatic life for the benefit of many generations to come.”

If the project is successful and Lake Sturgeon thrive in the French Broad River, state law will protect the fish and regulate any sport fisheries that may develop.


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Atlanta, GA 30345

Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286



Release #: R00-031

2000 News Releases

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