JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida wildlife authorities are warning boaters that Gulf sturgeon are returning to the Suwannee River.
While the thought of a fish jumping several feet out of the water might seem comical, authorities say it's no laughing matter. Sturgeon strikes have been known to injure and, in some cases, kill people.
No one was hurt during the one reported encounter with sturgeon last year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But a 5-year-old Trenton girl was killed in a 2015 incident.
That’s why the state agency wants boaters to be alert when they head out on the water. As part of their effort, wildlife authorities will patrol the river to remind people about the dangers posed by sturgeon.
“We don’t want even one person to be injured in an encounter with the fish,” said Maj. Andy Krause, FWC regional commander. “We want people to be aware the sturgeon are back in the Suwannee and that the risk of injury to boaters does exist.”
To avoid run-ins with sturgeon, FWC suggests boaters should take it slow. That will give the driver more time to react and avoid a potential collision. The agency also recommends that everyone on board wear life jackets so they don’t fall into the water.
According to the FWC, the average Gulf sturgeon typically measures about five feet in length and 40 pounds in weight. But they can grow to be as large as eight feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds, meaning they can do some serious damage.
Sturgeon can leap more than seven feet out of the water, authorities said. Researchers have found that the fish jump out of the water not only to communicate with other sturgeon but also to refill a swim bladder that allows them to stay afloat.
“The Suwannee is a beautiful river and we certainly don’t want to scare anyone away from enjoying it,” Krause said. “We just want those recreating there to be aware these fish are present and can jump at any time.”
To learn more about coexisting with sturgeon, which are protected by state and federal law, just visit the FWC’s website. Boaters involved in collisions with the fish should call the agency’s hotline -- (888) 404-FWCC.