The central driver for fish passage around Lock and Dam #1 is the requirement that the Wilmington Harbor Deepening Project mitigate for damage done to the Short-Nosed Atlantic Sturgeon. The Deepening of the harbor channel a few years ago was deemed harmful to the few remaining fish.
Sturgeon used to be plentiful in the rivers of North Carolina before we dammed them to oblivion. A recent study of their population in the Cape Fear spent hundreds and hundreds of hours fishing for them, but managed only five catches; unfortunately, two of them were the same fish. They are exceedingly rare.
Here is my favorite explorer John Lawson’s description of the Sturgeon in North Carolina Rivers in 1709, back when we had “plenty”:
The first of these Sturgeon, of which we have Plenty, all of the fresh Parts of our Rivers being well stor’d therewith. The Indians upon towards the Heads and Falls of our Rivers, strike a great many of these, and eat them; yet the Indians near the Salt-Waters will not eat them. I have seen an Indian strike one of these Fish, seven Foot long, and leave him on the Sands to be eaten by the Gulls. In May, they run up towards the Heads of Rivers, where you see several hundreds of them in one day. The Indians have another way to take them, which is by nets at the end of a Pole. The Bones of these Fish make good Nutmeg-Graters.
So, back in the day, you could see hundreds of them spawning in the headwaters of North Carolina rivers. Cool, huh?
Even cooler check out this description from writer Nathaniel Hawthorne of the fish jumping in the waters of Maine:
“But while looking at the rushing and rippling stream, I saw a great fish, some six feet long and thick in proportion, suddenly emerge at whole length, turn a somerset, and then vanish again beneath the water. It was a glistening, yellowish brown, with its fins all spread, and looking very strange and startling darting so life-like from the black water, throwing itself fully into the bright sunshine, and then lost to sight and pursuit.”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne, Augusta, Maine. July, 1837.
Click the pic below to be taken to a series of pictures of “leaping Sturgeon,” must have been quite a site when there were HUNDREDS in the NC headwaters: