By: GREG WILKERSON, Staff Writer    April 19, 2002 Mountain Press Sevierville TN

The French Broad River, below Douglas Dam, continues to increase its stock of ancient fish.  For the fourth time since the project began in 2000, a truckload of lake sturgeon were released into the river, this time much further down off Midway Road in Knox County.

About 700 of the baby fish were released Wednesday. Sturgeon, which were around before the dinosaurs, can grow to several feet long and live for more than 100 years. About 10,000 have been released since the program's start.

"It'll be 30 to 35 years from now before we know if this is a success," said Richard Kirk of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. "This project will actually span generations."

TWRA is conducting the experiment along with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Conservation Fisheries Inc., the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga and the Wilderness Wildlife Fund.

"The females are anywhere from 15 to 25 before they start reproducing," said Ed Scott of TVA. They give birth every four to five years once they reach maturity. "We are having survival," he said.

A radio collar test showed an 80 percent survival rate for the first year. Four sturgeon have been recovered by researchers, but the public is not encouraged to search them out.

"They're endangered in Tennessee," Kirk said. People "shouldn't be fishing for them."

If someone does catch one, however, "we would really like to know when and where," Scott said. Any person who catches one would be helping the project if they measure it before letting it go, and report it to TWRA.

"In February, a sauger fisherman caught a 22-inch sturgeon," Scott said. "They realized it was a sturgeon. They measured it and released it."

Tuesday night Scott was told by other people that two had been caught that were 11 and 13 inches long.

To report the capture of a sturgeon, phone TWRA's Morristown office at 1-800-332-0900.

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