A gentle giant

Good news: the gentle giant of the Connecticut River, the Atlantic sturgeon, appears about to be protected by a federal "critical habitat" designation in the lower river and in other spawning grounds along the East Coast.

This ought to make not just conservationists happy, but anyone who in years to come may be fortunate enough to see one. Kids who have taken part in NOAA classroom programs love the huge, spiky fish the way they love dinosaurs.

That's natural, because the species once shared the earth with the dinosaurs. Fully grown, an Atlantic sturgeon can live to age 60, weigh 800 lbs. and stretch as long as an SUV. It sports five rows of "scutes," reptile-like spikes on its back. But like some of the biggest dinosaurs, it eats small prey, mainly worms, mussels and crabs.

Once virtually eliminated from the river by caviar seekers, Atlantic sturgeon has been a federal Endangered Species only since 2012. Scientists have been learning more about the habits of this anadromous creature that, like some salmon, lives much of its life in the ocean but returns to its native river to spawn. They now know that the very sticky eggs need to be able to adhere to rocks — "cobble" — and that a silted bottom would not foster that. Designating a critical habitat will allow intervention in proposed construction that could ruin the nursery.

Young sturgeon have been found near the Holyoke Dam in Massachusetts, meaning breeding has already begun to succeed. Designation of the critical habitat will be another great step in the comeback of the Connecticut River and its denizens.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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