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Tag and Follow: Tracking Sturgeon in the San Joaquin River

When Austin Demarest and his team started looking for white sturgeon to tag in the San Joaquin River in March, he knew some days would be uneventful — on the boat at dawn for a full day of setting and retrieving empty nets. Other days, however, would put them to the test.

Their first morning on the river, the Lodi Fish and Wildlife Office team anchored four 12-foot-tall nets to the river bottom and to the shoreline about 100 feet away, then waited to see which kind of day it would be.

“We captured seven within the first 30 minutes. In past years, we were lucky if we got two in a single capture,” said Demarest, who had over two years of experience surgically implanting tiny acoustic transmitters, or tags, in white sturgeon and other fish. “Catching seven at a time was a completely new experience. It was pretty hectic.”

Even for an experienced three-person team, it’s not always easy to untangle and subdue one white sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish in North America, which can be more than 6 feet long. Sometimes, according to Demarest, it’s better to just cut through small sections of the net.

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