Friday, February 10, 2012

Fingers Crossed for the Dinosaur Fish

Atlantic sturgeon have been labeled endangered.  This feels like good news but I cross my fingers.

I have canoed all over the Mid Atlantic and Northeast and seen the small signs placed by the state's natural resources or environmental departments. 

Usually the signs appear on bridges or boat launches.  I glimpse them from a car on a back road crossing a small stream or on foot, paddle in hand, at the banks of a swift river. 

I enjoy the ones with a simple image of a sturgeon, this ancient mariner, this creature that looks so very prehistoric with its long snout, and bony plates in a ridge along its back, like a Stegosaurus.  

While the body of water entices me to explore it, the sturgeon signs add to the  excitement -- there's sturgeon around here!  Could I be lucky enough to see the rare creature in the wild shallows from high on a bridge, or drifting through a deep cutout? 

The signs are placed there to remind -- who needs a reminder! -- people not to pollute (dump oil, solvents, etc.) because sturgeon live in the watershed. 

The idea was to protect the fish and yet, they must not have worked because now the fish is listed as endangered.  Maybe it was just a last ditch effort.

Sturgeon had been fine for 200 million years and then we came along. 

In the last century, sturgeon suffered a devastating population decline.  Highly valued for caviar eggs, sturgeons have been decimated by overfishing, water pollution, and the construction of dams that block their spawning routes, according to the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University.

But it's not over yet.  They are still out there, and their new status can change things in their favor. 

“I am more optimistic than ever before that future generations will be able to see these ancient fish thriving once again off the shores of the East Coast,” said Ellen K. Pikitch, executive director of the institute in the Washington Post.

"It (Endangered Species Act listing) takes it up a big notch because now it's not only fishing activities, it can affect navigation, dredging," she said on NPR.

Let's hope so.  I don't want to lose another of nature's gifts.  I want to continue to be enchanted at the possibility of seeing the great fish, even if I actually never see one.

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