Sturgeon beached in Scott’s Bay remain a mystery

Wendy Elliott
Published on July 11, 2014

Undergrad Acadia University biology students Erin McConnell, left, Nathan Stewart, Luc Boudreau, along with Bowen Stokesbury-Price, examine some stranded sturgeon at Scott’s Bay. - Submitted


Finding 11 dead sturgeon on the beach at Scott’s Bay last month wasn’t a big surprise for Michael Stokesbury.

After all, the Acadia University assistant biology professor estimates there are probably 10,000 sturgeon in the Minas Basin area to feed this summer.

That’s not to say his undergraduate research team aren’t busy in the lab trying to determine what happened to cause the stranding, but he’s not sure the mystery will ever be solved.

Initially, they sampled the beached sturgeon to determine age, sex and stock of origin. Stokesbury said about 60 per cent of the Minas Basin sturgeon population originates from Saint John River stock in New Brunswick and 35 per cent from the Kennebec River in Maine. A few are from rivers farther south in the U.S.

Some Atlantic sturgeon tend to start life in the Hudson River in New York, moving up the coast as sub adults. About 60 per cent of the local sturgeon population originates in the Saint John River in New Brunswick and 35 per cent from the Kennebec River in Maine.

Sturgeon have been designated as a threatened species in the Maritime provinces, so Stokesbury said the deaths are being treated as a matter of concern. While there have been a few strandings of sturgeon on the West Coast, the Scott’s Bay incident was rare.

No external marks or noticeable wounds were observed on the fish to suggest they had been caught in fishing gear. The mostly male sturgeon were all found within about 30 metres of each other.

As part of his Canada Research Chair in ecology of coastal environments, Stokesbury is part of the Ocean Tracking Network that links Acadia with Dalhousie.

“We’re not sure of their exact dynamics,” Stokesbury said. Sturgeon tend to be long lived and some grow as long as 10 to 14 feet long during their century-long life span.

“They are very interesting fish,” he said.

Stokesbury added that Glanville Travis, who fishes out of Delhaven, and Darren Porter, who operates a weir in Bramber, Hants County, have assisted by sharing their knowledge of working on the water.

Stokesbury said his team has been tagging groups of sturgeon in the Minas Basin with a unique ID. They’ve observed other large fish, like white sharks, in the vicinity.

“We’re starting to tease out these creatures there and collect base line data. Seasonally, they are abundant.”