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Gardiner witnessing ‘spectacular event’ as hundreds of sturgeon spawn near downtown

A small crowd gathers Friday afternoon to watch Atlantic sturgeon spawning under a bridge in downtown Gardiner.
Kevin Miller
Maine Public
A small crowd gathers Friday afternoon to watch Atlantic sturgeon spawning under a bridge in downtown Gardiner.

Hundreds of Atlantic sturgeon have turned up in a stream in downtown Gardiner, giving local residents a rare, close-up glimpse of the massive fish.

Reports began circulating on Thursday that Atlantic sturgeon — a prehistoric-looking fish that can grow to 10 feet in length — were gathering in Cobbossee Stream in downtown Gardiner. Since then, crowds of onlookers have flocked to the Route 201 bridge over the stream to watch as the sturgeon swim and apparently spawn just underneath.

Sean Ledwin, who heads the sea-run fisheries program at the Maine Department of Marine Resources, estimated there are at least 200 sturgeon just upstream from where the Cobbossee flows into the Kennebec River. Most are 3 to 6 feet long but Ledwin estimated on Friday that one he saw was closer to 10 feet.

"Cobbossee means ‘The place where the sturgeon are’ in the Abanaki language so there are often hundreds or thousands of sturgeon in that general area, but they are usually not in the stream,” Ledwin said. “So this is pretty unusual. But they are definitely spawning right below the A-1 Diner there. Folks who have lived in town for the whole lives have never seen anything like it."

Ledwin said the congregation of sturgeon is likely a result of both a growth in the Kennebec sturgeon population but also the high water flows in the Kennebec River, which is a major habitat for the fish in Maine. Atlantic sturgeon are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, with the Gulf of Maine population currently listed as “threatened.”

So Ledwin said DMR is encouraging people to safely enjoy the "spectacle" of the sturgeon. But the agency is also reminding on-lookers that it is illegal to intentionally fish for them as well as to swim with, harass or otherwise disturb the fish.

“Sturgeon are a real success story in Maine,” he said. “The Kennebec River is the biggest spawning aggregation. And with the Clean Water Act, the clean up of the river and the removal of the Edwards Dam (in Augusta), the sturgeon population has really grown significantly. And we’re really excited that people get to see them jumping in the river normally and then witness this unusual but spectacular event here in the Cobbossee Stream in Gardiner.”