Nation & World

Endangered fish traveled river 200 miles and over a dam to reach Jackson, Mississippi

This photo is not of the same fish that traveled 200 miles. Gulf sturgeon are endangered in Mississippi and there are multiple studies in progress on the Pearl River to help revive the species.
This photo is not of the same fish that traveled 200 miles. Gulf sturgeon are endangered in Mississippi and there are multiple studies in progress on the Pearl River to help revive the species. Photo Dr. Michael Andres, The University of Southern Mississippi

For the first time in 25 years, a Gulf sturgeon was detected in the Pearl River at Jackson, Mississippi.

Environmentalists celebrated the news on social media, noting the fish was both large — at 5 feet long — and had somehow found its way over the Jackson Waterworks dam.

“The last confirmed Gulf sturgeon sighting in the Jackson area was 1996,” the nonprofit Pearl Riverkeeper wrote in a Jan. 13 post.

“The Gulf sturgeon ... lives in saltwater but travels up freshwater rivers to spawn. The two lowhead dams on the Pearl River are barriers to their natural migration and spawning patterns.”

So how did it get over the dam?

Riverkeeper Abby Braman suspects it happened during a flood.

“During periods of heavy rainfall, the Jackson Waterworks weir can become submerged,” she told McClatchy News. “Even if the weir is only partially submerged, the sturgeon is a very powerful fish that is prone to jumping out of the water.”

The 17-year-old fish was detected by researchers last year via a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tag, officials said. The tag was put on the fish in 2017 when it was near the mouth of the river.

That means it traveled roughly 200 miles upriver before being detected at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park in Jackson, Braman says.

Gulf sturgeon are often referred to as a “living dinosaur” because their appearance has remained largely unchanged over 200 million years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It is well armored with rows of heavy plates that make it look menacing, but it is actually not an aggressive species, preferring to linger near the bottom of riverbeds and oceans,” the service reports.

“With a tail like a shark, whiskers like a catfish, and a tube-like mouth that projects from the bottom of its head… the sturgeon has been called both ugly and yet beautiful.”

Scientists are conducting multiple gulf sturgeon studies along the Pearl River with the aim of bringing about a recovery of the species.

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This story was originally published January 14, 2022 2:17 PM.

Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.
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