I was on a mission to see an ancient creature that lived during the time of the dinosaur and are known to live more than 100 years. These massive ghostly white fish can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and live in the river not far from my home.
Long before I made it to the viewing station, I was captivated by things we so often miss and fail to appreciate. I can’t explain why I am drawn to such images. I took a picture of the reflection off the water at this fish hatchery along the Columbia River and the beauty of the day captured in this moment almost made me forget I was here to see a prehistoric monster fish. A friend told me that a sturgeon made this particular place his home. Although he is not captive, he stays. He was even named by the people who operate the fish hatchery and viewing station– Herman. He wasn’t very photogenic. The glass in the underwater viewing area was great for seeing but not for pictures.
Here’s an picture from the internet showing friends of Herman in the wild. It’s no wonder the TV show, River Monsters did
an entire show on the quite beautiful giant that I was lucky enough to have met in person. In 1806, Lewis and Clark documented an account of seeing sturgeon on the Washington state side of the Columbia river.
I was surprised to find that the sturgeon has not been studied much. It’s possible that Herman’s neighbors, the salmon, have overshadowed this giant. Today, salmon are the Brangelina of the fish world– very high profile. Although Lewis and Clark wrote about seeing Native Americans catching sturgeon, it wasn’t one of the fish sketched in the journal.
Sturgeon don’t often make the news these days but the history of the United States may have been different if not for them. In stories of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, it became known as “the fish that saved Jamestown”. 1609 through 1610 is referred to as “The Starving Time” in the history of the new people of Jamestown. Some even speculate that had it not been for the availability of the sturgeon along with the English settlers knowledge of how to catch them, Virginia might be a Spanish speaking land today– along with many other areas. Sturgeon can be found in England. It must have been comforting for the settlers to see something familiar in their new home. However, the giant fish, along with so many other things, marked the start of a change. In the 1600’s, in the homeland the Jamestown settlers left, it was illegal for anyone other than the king to take sturgeon.
His size is what most people walk away remembering. It’s the largest freshwater fish in North America. As we drove away, it was the adaptability and resilience of the sturgeon that stayed with me. That and the idea that Herman wasn’t a monster at all. He may not be as well known and glamorous as the salmon but his family has seen more than we are likely to ever know.