Goochland-based Luck Stone has donated more than 2,200 tons of crushed stone to build a reef near Hopewell that will provide refuge for sturgeon eggs, which researchers hope will save the species from disappearing from the region. The same material is used for roads, driveways and other construction.
Atlantic sturgeon used to be abundant in the James River and the rest of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In colonial times, their meat and caviar were major exports. But their numbers were decimated by over-fishing and sediment pollution from agriculture and land development.
Scientists think there are just a couple of hundred sturgeon in the James these days.
The sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish and can grow up to 15 feet and live for 60 years. It requires a hard rocky bottom to spawn, which has become harder to find due to increased runoff into the river. The reef project provides a habitat for the fish to spawn.
The project is funded by a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to the James River Association. Greg Garman, director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Environmental Studies, is leading the effort.
“Up until five or six years ago, we were pretty much convinced sturgeon was gone from the James River,” Garman said.
But then a reproducing population of sturgeon was found, the only one known in the Chesapeake Bay region. There are also small populations found in the Delaware Bay and the Hudson River. Garman said sturgeon are found in greater numbers in Canadian waterways.
“It is still very much an imperiled population,” Garman said. “If it is restored in the Chesapeake, [it] will happen on the back of the James River population.”
Garman said the species is very close to being on the national endangered species list. Virginia has had a moratorium on fishing sturgeon since the mid-1970s. If the project is successful, Garman said in 20 years or so sturgeon could be commercially fished again and its caviar harvested.
Garman said the help from Luck Stone has made the chances for that to happen even greater.
The amount of stone donated by Luck Stone would have cost them about $30,000, Garman said, but instead only cost $10,000, enough to cover transport of the stone.
“If it wasn’t for Luck Stone, every penny would go into the actual construction of the reef. Because of the donation, we are able to reprogram monies to do a more effective job of monitoring and demonstrating the efficacy of this created habitat,” Garman said.
This isn’t Luck Stone’s first collaboration with VCU. The company also donated material for building the Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences in Charles City. Garman is research director at the education center, which is also the state’s first LEED platinum building.
Doug Palmore leads Luck Stone’s Environmental Design & Development Team, which incorporates environmental stewardship into the company’s mining, real estate and retail divisions.
Palmore said funding the sturgeon project advances the company’s environmental goals.
“Focus on restoration of the land we use is important to the long-term viability of the community,” said Palmore.
Palmore said the restoration project also showcases a unique use of the company’s products.