Endangered list is sturgeon's last hope

I enjoyed reading about efforts to save Atlantic sturgeon, "Atlantic Sturgeon under consideration for endangered species list," (February 2010).

Although I've never seen an Atlantic sturgeon firsthand, I have fished for white sturgeon in the Snake River in Idaho and can say that these are among the most awe-inspiring creatures I've ever seen. The largest one we caught was around 4 feet long and weighed probably 80 pounds-and the guide apologized "because we didn't catch anything big!"

Out West in the more pristine coastal rivers, sturgeon often grown beyond 10 feet long and 500 pounds. When you set the hook, they rise from the depths and leap out of the water like a tarpon. But when you get them in the shallows next to the boat, they roll over and become extremely docile.

Their skin is like a shark's, their mouth like a sucker's, and the scutes along their bodies can be razor-sharp. They are something of a cross between a dinosaur, a shark and a cyborg.

I think it would be a great shame if our generation allows one of the oldest fish species on the planet to disappear on our watch, especially to something as useless and avoidable as bycatch. While I don't take Endangered Species Act listings lightly, I think this may be one of those cases where it's this fish's last hope.

The Bay is in serious trouble and perhaps already beyond the tipping point. The Atlantic sturgeon may not be the most popular species in the Bay or the most economically important, but saving it is the right thing to do.

Jason McGarvey
Midlothian, VA

Don't downplay role of menhaden

The commentary by Ron Lukens, "There's no problem with menhaden population, only what is believed about it," (February 2010) on his "belief" that menhaden fishing is "sustainable both biologically and ecologically" does not convince me.

He backs up his argument by downplaying the role of menhaden in the ecosystem as zooplankton feeders. While I can see his point that they are certainly not a sink for nitrogen from man-made sources, there is no denying that they are a keystone species for the entire coastal ecosystem. Even if they only eat phytoplankton in their first year, simple math tells us that if you take away the adults in large enough quantities, new generations won't be available to support the food web.

And what about the long-term genetic consequences of a near wipeout when we overharvest menhaden, let alone any animal?

I am also not sure I agree with his paraphrase of the "two independent reviewers" statements on a two-year VIMS study. Their claim that the population of menhaden is providing "(sufficient) forage for predators" doesn't exactly prove his supposed point that the population can support fisheries harvesting. It's a weak argument. Does he not know that we are the biggest predators of them all?

James Frank
San Francisco, CA

Frank is an environmental educator who has worked for the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute's Center of Marine Biotechnology and Baltimore County's Marshy Point Nature Center.

Why is Omega Protein opposed to the VMRC?

The February Bay Journal arrived on the day after the Virginia General Assembly defeated a bill to allow the management of menhaden to come under the Virginia Marine Resource Commission.

If Omega Protein is truly interested in maintaining the population of menhaden, why are they so opposed to VMRC management? Why do they feel the need to show up at the General Assembly with the AFL-CIO to try and scare the legislators into believing jobs will be lost.

I'm disappointed you gave Ron Lukens, an Omega Protein employee, print space without opposing views.

Robert Deal
Hampton, VA

Menhaden commentary failed to make its case

After reading Ron Lukens' commentary "There's no problem with menhaden population, only what is believed about it" (February 2010), I was not too pleased with his assessment, especially when he stated that "the population is in good shape."

He failed to define where the population studies were made, when they were made, and what were the recorded harvest figures over a period of years. He reported three studies in Virginia but he failed to report any studies from the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, what does "good shape" really imply?

Lukens then stated that "most" scientists say "that menhaden are not filter feeders." He cited one study made by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Virginia. He presented no evidence that revealed the number of scientists who made studies and where they were made. He failed to prove that most of the scientists say menhaden are not filter feeders.

Next, he cited two more studies from Virginia in 2002-2004 showing that the diets of striped bass increased 12-fold in the two studies. He listed no studies to verify the dietary habits of striped bass prior to 2002 or after 2004, nor did he cite any studies made in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lukens wrote about the importance of science but failed to clearly state his case.

William Huppert
Maryland Artificial Reef Committee