No Fish Story

March 31, 2012

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

One of the GREAT natural resources in our back yard is the Delaware River.  The longest (330 miles) un-dammed river east of the Mississippi.    Designated a Wild and Scenic River by Congress.  Providing drinking water and recreation to 5 % of the nation.  The birthplace of our nation.  The lifeblood of Native American nations that lived here before us.  At Natural Lands Trust, almost all of our Preserves and Conservation Easements are also within the Delaware’s Watershed. 

Upon returning from our vacation to Oregon, I read how the Shad fishermen had captured and released a Sturgeon in New Hope.  This was of interest to me, because we had stopped at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery along the Columbia River, where they raise White Sturgeon.   In Pennsylvania, Sturgeon are protected from fishing, but they remain part of the fisheries in the northwest. 

Sturgeons are an ancient group of species, dating back 70 million years.  Like Salmon, most species are anadromous, meaning they travel up freshwater streams to spawn.   Interestingly, the Delaware River once supported the largest Atlantic Sturgeon fishery on the East Coast.  That was before the 1900’s.  Before overfishing and loss of habitat decimated the Sturgeon populations all along the Atlantic Coast.  While research continues, the Delaware River probably holds the best hope for an Atlantic Sturgeon comeback.  Since Sturgeon don’t negotiate fish ladders, having an undammed watershed is crucial.  The continual improvement of water quality in the streams feeding the Delaware watershed is another reason for hope.  Finally, we need to improve fishing techniques to help Atlantic Sturgeon survive to spawning age and reach the freshwater streams for spawning.

At the Bonneville Hatchery, we watched several Sturegeon, including  “Herman”, a 70 year old White Sturgeon that weighs 240 pounds and is over seven feet long.  Who knows, one day fisherman may once again catch Atlantic Sturgeon the size of Herman in the Delaware River – that great natural resource in our own back yard.