If you are an aquatic biologist, then July 19, 2000 was a big day. If your specialty is large game fish, it was monumental with a capital “M.”
On that date, approximately 500 young lake sturgeon were released into the French Broad River just below Douglas Dam in Sevier County. In effect, it was a long awaited homecoming, the beginning of an effort to reestablish a sustainable population of the large bottom-dwelling fish. That release was the first of dozens to take place over the projected 20-year lifespan of the project.
Many of the people at the release that July morning, especially the aquatic biologists, had already invested years in planning the initiative. Wearing T-shirts that boasted "Bring Back the Natives," they took turns carrying the young fish to the water and patiently letting them go, one at a time. A defining moment in their careers, it was a selfless act they each wanted to savor.
Having spent the first years of their young lives in much smaller artificial environs, at first the young sturgeon lay in the shallow water seemingly bewildered by the newness of it all on that warm July morning 13 years ago.
They gulped, slowly gathering whatever awareness and courage it takes for such finned creatures to move into the great unknown. Gradually, senses alert, they swam away into the water's murky depths and their new life. Nurtured and hand-raised since birth, they were now on their own. Most would never be seen again.
Yet, like ”Casting your bread upon the waters,” there was hope that after many a day the good wishes would be returned.
- For the rest of the story, look for the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of The Tennessee Conservationist. Special thanks to editor Louise Zepp and to Thom Benson with The Tennessee Aquarium.