They scoured the upper Chesapeake Bay without success yesterday for the survivors of an ecological disaster.
Two boatloads of federal biologists, equipped with the latest in electronic fish-finding gear, crisscrossed the lower Susquehanna River near here yesterday in search of the Atlantic sturgeon.
The huge fish was around when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and biologists fear it, too, may be headed for extinction.
Mature sturgeon, which can grow to 14 feet and weigh 800 pounds, migrate from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn in fresh water. They once were plentiful in the bay, but virtually disappeared nearly a century ago, victims of overfishing, pollution or the damming of spawning rivers.
Occasionally, fishermen still report catching or seeing the fish, which has a long, whiskery snout and hard, bony plates covering its body. Three smaller, rarer members of the same family -- short-nosed sturgeon -- were caught last month near here.
So two teams of U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists from Annapolis and from the federal government's sturgeon hatchery in Pennsylvania joined this week to search for sturgeon in the upper bay.
"A guy at the marina says he sees something big in there," explained Jorgen E. Skjeveland, leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service team. He pointed to a spot upriver from the Amtrak bridge.
If they caught a sturgeon, said Mr. Skjeveland, they would detain it long enough to tag it and take a sample of its flesh for genetic analysis. Only by studying the DNA will federal scientists be able to tell whether the few sturgeon found in the bay are native or migrants from the Hudson River in New York, where until this year there were enough sturgeon to support a commercial fishery.
Last month, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recommended a two-year moratorium on catching Atlantic sturgeon. This week, the biologists checked potential prime sturgeon spawning grounds -- spots where the water is 40 to 90 feet deep and the bottom is hard clay.
But the nets they set snagged no Atlantic sturgeon.
The federal hatchery has raised about 5,000 young sturgeon from Hudson River parents, and is considering letting Maryland stock them this year in the Nanticoke River.
The search was expected to continue today.
Pub Date: 5/03/96