CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WATE) — Last week, 2,500 baby Lake Sturgeon arrived at Tennessee Aquarium, according to a release. After this summer, those fish will be headed to the Tennessee River.

Last week, biologists at the aquarium’s freshwater field station welcomed the young fish into their care. Over the summer, they will be fed a steady diet of bloodworms and brine shrimp until they reach six inches long, according to the release. After that, the aquarium says they will be reintroduced to the Tennessee River.

Despite their young age, these fish have already made quite a long journey. The release says eggs were collected and fertilized from fish in Wisconsin’s Wolf River, where the population is stable. Then, the eggs were sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery in Warm Springs, Georgia, the aquarium said.

After they hatched, the baby fish were transported to facilities, including the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute’s freshwater field station, where they will be cared for until they are ready for reintroduction.

As the restoration efforts of the Lake Sturgeon Working Group are nearing its 25th anniversary, the two-inch sturgeon could mark the beginning of the first released sturgeon reaching their sexual maturity. According to the aquarium, Lake Sturgeon begin reproducing when they are anywhere between 17 and 25 years old.

“Because of the unique life history of Lake Sturgeon, meaning that they can live a long time and don’t begin reproducing until they are anywhere from 17-25, we knew this would be a long-term project,” says Dr. Anna George, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education. “It wasn’t ever realistic to think we could release sturgeon for just a couple of years and see the population recover. But all of the partners knew that, if we committed to this project for a long time, we could be part of restoring this really incredible species back to Tennessee.”

When they are adults, these fish can reach lengths of eight-feet long and potentially live up to 150 years.

The Aquarium said the Lake Sturgeon Working Group is a collaborative partnership between government and non-profit organizations with a shared desire to bring the species back to Tennessee. In the 1970s, damming, poor water quality, and overfishing led to the local extinction of Lake Sturgeon from Tennessee’s waterways, but in the 1990s, conditions became much better.

To date, the Lake Sturgeon Working Group has reintroduced more than 333,000 sturgeon into the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Partners in the group include:

  • Tennessee Aquarium
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • Tennessee Technological University
  • University of Tennessee
  • Conservation Fisheries Inc.
  • Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources
  • Georgia Department of Natural Resources
  • North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
  • World Wildlife Fund