(3.8) FISH and/or FISHING - STURGEON of the St. Johns River, Florida

STURGEON of the St. Johns River (or Ocklawaha River), Florida

An Information, Photos, & Sources Report

Compiled by

Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca

With the assistance of Captain Erika Ritter

Created: 19 June 2013

Last Revised: 18 March 2019

NOTE: Click-on individual photos to enlarge them!

4 Photos of an Atlantic Sturgeon found along the St. Johns River on 15 March 2019


TO: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)

FROM: Paul Nosca

DATE: 01 June 2013

RE: STURGEON caught by angler from the St. Johns River near Fuller Warren Bridge in January 2012

I am wondering if FWC is actually aware of the STURGEON (Atlantic or maybe shortnose) that was reportedly caught by an angler from the Saint Johns River near Fuller Warren Bridge on 07 January 2012. There doesn't seem to be any mention of this rare catch on the FWC website.

The "Ocklawahaman" webpage entitled "Other Migratory Fish and Crustacean Species of the Ocklawaha River, Florida" https://sites.google.com/site/ocklawahaman/other-migratory-fish-of-the-ocklawaha-river-fl reports this sturgeon capture as in the following paragraph.

"2012 St. Johns River Basin STURGEON NEWS: Reportedly, a 38-in long sturgeon was caught during January by an angler from the St. Johns River just south of the Fuller Warren Bridge. The fish, estimated to weigh at least 15 lbs, was supposedly identified by FWC as an Atlantic sturgeon. View a photo of this sturgeon (with caption) on page 80 of the March 2012 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine."

An email that I viewed from the angler himself went like this:

"This catch has created a bit of attention. My daughter and I were fishing just 1/4 mi. south of the Fuller Warren bridge. If you look closely it is visible in the background of one of the pictures. It would be very much O.K. for you to use any of the photos you wish. I think it’s really cool with all of the attention we’ve been getting. A fellow from FWC got a hold of me and told me that this may be the largest Atlantic Sturgeon on record to be caught in the St. Johns river since at least 1974. It was 38 inches long, and can only guess on the weight to be about 15 pounds or so. At any rate, it was a lot of fun catching it. I hope this helps you out. Have a great day!"

I have 3 photos (JPG files) of this Atlantic (or shortnose?) sturgeon that were taken 07 January 2012.

Please, when possible, let me know if the FWC actually is aware of and examined this sturgeon.

Thank you,

Paul Nosca

NOTE: Click-on individual photos to enlarge them!

06 June 2013 reply from FWC:

Dear Paul,

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Yes, the FWC was made aware of this fish. Unfortunately, we did not examine the fish before it was released back into the river. The FWC Fish Taxa Coordinator (J. W. [name abbrev.]) is currently trying to update our webpage to reflect the capture of this fish.

Thank you again for your support, and take care.

M. H. [name abbrev.]

Regional Fisheries Administrator

NOTE: The St. Johns River is sometimes spelled "Saint Johns River" and the Ocklawaha River is sometimes misspelled as "Oklawaha River" in some documents and reports about these Florida rivers.

United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE). 2013. "Jacksonville harbor navigation study, Duval County, Florida; Draft integrated general reevaluation report II and supplemental environmental impact statement; May 2013." USACOE, Jacksonville District. Available at:


(last accessed 6-1-13).

EXCERPTS FOLLOW: Atlantic Sturgeon

Historically, the range of the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) included major estuary and river systems from Labrador to the St. Johns River, Florida. Their populations have been decimated due to overharvesting. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 1998 banned harvest through 2038 along the entire Atlantic Seaboard. The remaining main threats to the recovery of this species are dams located on Atlantic Seaboard Rivers, which block sturgeon access to historical spawning areas. Additional threats to the sturgeon in the St. Johns River include poor water quality, fishery by-catch, and habitat degradation issues. Florida presently has no documented breeding population of Atlantic sturgeon in either the St. Johns or St. Marys Rivers.

In recent years, only two reports of Atlantic sturgeon in the St. Johns River, Florida or St. Marys River, Florida/Georgia have been confirmed. However, in January 2010, shrimp try-nets in 15 meter depths were used for chase-trawling chilled sea turtles during Kings Bay Trident submarine channel maintenance. During this exercise, a trawler netted and released 21 sub-adult (~1 meter) Atlantic sturgeon in the St. Marys estuary (Slay, Pers. Comm. 2010). Dr. Doug Peterson’s University of Georgia sampling study also captured nine subadult (~1 meter) Atlantic sturgeon in the tidally-influenced St. Marys, ranging through summer, fall, and winter captures during 2010 (Peterson, Pers. Comm. 2010). In February of 2011, two year-one/year-two juvenile (~40 centimeter) Atlantic sturgeon were caught on hook and line, from the shore, in the St. Johns River (Snyder, Pers. Comm. 2011). This could suggest that the nearby Atlantic sturgeon populations are increasing sufficiently to re-establish resident juvenile populations in the St. Marys and St. Johns Rivers. This is the first step which necessarily precedes the St. Marys River and St. Johns River regaining their own breeding populations, as the resident juveniles mature. So the status is "extirpated or nearly extirpated, but migrants are occupying northeast Florida rivers (ASSRT 2007; FWC 2011)."

No critical habitat has been designated for the Atlantic sturgeon. Shortnose Sturgeon

The shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) historically occurred in the St. Johns River (Gilbert, 1992); however, this species has experienced significant declines within its southern geographic range (Rogers and Weber, 1994; Kahnle et al., 1998; Collins et al., 2000). Beginning in the spring of 2001, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FFWRI) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began research on the population status and distribution of the species in the St. Johns River. During approximately 4,500 hours of gill-net sampling in the St. Johns River from January through August of 2002 and 2003, only one shortnose sturgeon was captured in 2002 (http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/sturgeon/research/population-evaluation/).

Designated critical habitat for this species does not occur in the project area. Atlantic Sturgeon

The proposed action may affect but is not likely to adversely affect the Atlantic sturgeon. Atlantic sturgeon are anadromous; adults spawn in freshwater in the spring and early summer and migrate into estuarine and marine waters where they spend most of their lives. In some southern rivers a fall spawning migration may also occur. They spawn in moderately flowing water in deep parts of large rivers. Sturgeon eggs are highly adhesive and usually are deposited on hard surfaces (e.g., cobble).

Historically, Atlantic sturgeon sightings have been reported from Hamilton Inlet, Labrador, south to the St. Johns River, Florida. Overharvest led to wide-spread declines in abundance. The origin of the fishery dates back to colonial times. Since a 1998 harvest moratorium there have been few surveys to assess status and abundance. "Bycatch" of sturgeon in fisheries targeting other species is a current threat in the ocean environment. In their estuarine and freshwater habitats, Atlantic sturgeon face additional threats, including habitat degradation and loss from various human activities such as dredging, dams, water withdrawals, and other development.

There appears to no longer be a spawning population of the species in the St. Johns River since the impoundment of a major tributary, the Oklawaha River, at River Mile 95. There is evidence that the river serves as a nursery ground for a few young originating from other river systems to the north. The species is sensitive to low dissolved oxygen and high water temperatures both of which could be exacerbated by climate change and water withdrawal or diversion.

Dredging poses a threat to habitat by disturbing benthic fauna, elimination of deep holes, alteration of rock substrate, increased turbidity and sedimentation, noise/disturbance, and hydrodynamic alteration (National Marine Fisheries Service 2012).

With impoundment of the Oklawaha and climate change, it is unlikely that the St. Johns River will become an important habitat for the species. However, young from spawning rivers to the north may continue to use the St. Johns River and provide a possible source for recovery should conditions in the river somehow become more favorable for the species. Effects of blasting on fish species with swimbladders, including Atlantic sturgeon is discussed in section 7.3.8 and incorporated by reference.

REFERENCE AS: Nosca, P. 2019. "Sturgeon of the St. Johns River (or Ocklawaha River), Florida" webpage report. "Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca reports" website. Paul Nosca, Eureka, FL.


Email: ocklawahaman1@gmail.com