FANNING SPRINGS, Florida— Summer is a popular time for boating on Florida’s world famous Suwannee River. But it’s also the time of year when sturgeon move from the Gulf of Mexico, upstream to spawn.
The prehistoric-looking fish are extremely bony and can grow up to four feet long and weigh 200 pounds.
The fish are known to leap feet out of the water while swimming in the river making them potentially deadly missiles for boaters traveling at high speeds down the river.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has been keeping track of reported sturgeon strikes since 2006 and reports the fish seem to be more active when water levels in the Suwanee are low.
The river level is at about 23’, about 7 feet below average and near the record low of 22.5 feet seen 10 years ago in 2007.
That has FWC officials warning boaters of the increased risk of sturgeon strikes.
“We don’t want to scare people off the river, we just want to make them aware to slow down in certain areas,” said Karen Parker, a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In 2015 5-year-old Jaylon Rippy was struck and killed when she was hit by a sturgeon while on a boat with her family near Fanning Springs near the Joe Anderson boat ramp.   Her mother Tanya and brother Trevor were also injured but survived.
Since 2006 FWC has recorded more than 40 boating incidents involving sturgeon, 32 strikes resulting in injury.
Researchers say the sturgeon are not attacking people or intending to strike boats, but instead are likely jumping to communicate with other fish using their splash.