Elusive Gulf Sturgeon Delays Harbor Improvement Project

A pre-historic looking fish that's considered a "threatened species" has interrupted another marine improvement project.

You may recall, concerns about the Gulf of Mexico Sturgeon delayed a beach replenishment project in Hancock County. Now, the sturgeon has halted improvements at the Pass Christian Harbor.

Many fishermen are shaking their heads over how a fish they've never seen, and know little about, can force a delay in planned improvements. Three quarters of a million dollars in pier projects are officially "on hold" until scientists determine the possible impact on the gulf sturgeon.

"I haven't found anybody yet that knows what it is down here," said harbormaster, Willie Davis.

Davis appreciates concern over a threatened species. But he's never caught or seen a gulf sturgeon. He knows this much, however.

"It's definitely holding up a lot of work. And we've got plans here where we're adding piers and doing stuff like that. And it has put a stop to it," Davis explained.

A few piles have already been driven for the new pier next to the bait shop. But there will be no more work until scientists consider the impact on the sturgeon.

Surely the longtime oyster fishermen are familiar with the species. But those we talked with had never seen or caught a sturgeon.

"Sure have not," said fisherman John Borthwick.

Clyde Wright frequently fishes off the Pass Christian fishing pier. He's landed trout and flounder.  Even sting rays. But sturgeon?

"Ugly. Old. Pre historic," he said, "I've seen pictures of them, but never landed one."

Our informal survey of more than a dozen fishermen found just one who's ever caught a gulf sturgeon. And that was years ago. In a river. In Louisiana.

If it calls the harbor home, the homely gulf sturgeon is keeping a low profile.

"Everybody that I've talked to has never even heard of it," said Willie Davis.

They may be elusive, but there are gulf sturgeon in South Mississippi waters and they migrate into the rivers to spawn. Research scientist Todd Slack studied the sturgeon from 1997 until 2003. He says that study identified four to six hundred sturgeon in the Pascagoula River system alone.