By Lise Fisher
Gainesville ,FL -- Boaters planning a trip down the Suwannee River should remember that they'll be sharing the waters with sturgeon, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission cautioned this week. The fish, which can grow to more than 8 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds, have had their share of run-ins with boaters.
Annually, there are reports of incidents where a sturgeon jumping out of the water has hit a boat or boater.Last year, a 4-year-old boy's arm was broken and his father was cut by a jumping sturgeon on the river.
Gulf sturgeon migrate back into the Suwannee River during March and April. Officials are recommending that boaters reduce their speed on the river. This gives boaters more time to react if they do encounter a jumping sturgeon. Signs also are posted at boat ramps along the Suwannee to remind boaters about the sturgeon.
"We will be checking those boat ramps this month to ensure all the signs are still in place, and our officers will be on water patrol during this period and into the summer months in a continued effort to educate boaters on this issue," said Maj. Lee Beach, regional law enforcement commander for FWC's North Central Region.
"Just one person getting hurt is too many. We want people to be aware the sturgeon are returning, and the risk of injury to boaters does exist," Beach said.
The Suwannee appears to support the largest viable population of Gulf sturgeon, with biologists estimating the annual population at 6,500 to 7,500. The adult fish spend eight to nine months every year in the river spawning. It's unknown why sturgeon jump out of the water. The fish have rows of "rock hard" plates along their sides, back and belly.
"When sturgeon and boaters collide, the results can be devastating," said FWC biologist Jeffrey Wilcox.