Sturgeon still lurk in the river just off the shore of Jamestown Island from spring to fall, but spotting one is a much more rare occurrence than in Captain John Smith’s day. These massive fish commonly grow beyond six feet in length and can grow as large as 14 feet, weighing more than 800 pounds. They are one of the oldest fish species on the planet, with the fossil record taking them back more than 100 million years. Like salmon, sturgeon are anadromous fish: they leave salty waters to spawn in fresh water estuaries and then return to the salt water. For the early Jamestown colonists, sturgeon meat was an important part of their diet when available. In England in the early 17th century, sturgeon would have been reserved for royalty, but on the frontier at Jamestown sturgeon could be had by all. The archaeological record at the James Fort site contains tens of thousands of bony plates from sturgeon, called scutes, as well as numerous sturgeon fin bones. The Atlantic Sturgeon is listed as an endangered species, and fishery biologists (called ichthyologists) are studying the sturgeon remains found at Jamestown to better understand the historic populations from 400 years ago.

“We had more sturgeon than could be devoured by dog and man. . . .”

-Captain John Smith, 1609