During a mock funeral procession in Center City, protesters carried cardboard caskets symbolizing the death of the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon. They pushed wheelbarrows holding 180,000 paper cutout sturgeon — representing just a fraction of the species’ population loss.
Threatened by dams, lack of oxygen, by-catch, and strikes from large ships, there are only 250 Atlantic Sturgeon left in the Delaware River.
On Wednesday, environmentalists rallied outside City Hall to raise awareness, and to urge government agencies to take action to protect them. The endangered fish once numbered about 350,000 and supported a thriving caviar industry in the Delaware Bay.
“Our federal and state agencies fail to take the action they need to protect our sturgeon population, to restore their populations, to help them survive and thrive. And they continue to approve devastating projects that are killing the sturgeon,” said the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s Maya van Rossum.
“We’re here to demand they change course,” she said.
DRN wants the Delaware River Basin Commission to upgrade oxygen standards in the water in order to protect fish. They’re also calling on the DRBC, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, to restrict permits for projects that require dredging and hurt fish habitat, or that allow vessels to strike the fish and kill them.
“If we are not successful, if people don’t take action and start paying attention to these species and to our environment, then we’re going to be back here next year campaigning to save the eels. We need to take this seriously,” said protester Adam Waterbear DePaul, chief of education and tribal story keeper for the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania.
Westfield Friends School student Heidi Jacobs, 13, spoke about the importance of protecting the sturgeon during the protest.
“My generation is left to fix and repair a legacy of greed and damage,” she said. “You may ask, ‘Why care about the sturgeon?’ Well, I think they’re pretty amazing. They’re a living dinosaur, they’re from the middle Jurassic era, and the Delaware sturgeon are a genetically unique species.”
In July, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network sent a notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) for allegedly violating the Endangered Species Act over two new planned dredging projects.
The group objected to NOAA’s Biological Opinions, which led the Army Corps of Engineers to approve permits for the New Jersey Wind Port project in Salem County and the Edgemoor Container Port project across the river in Delaware. NMFS has since ordered a reconsideration of those projects utilizing a scientific study analyzing fish health in the Delaware River.
“Once they’re gone from the Delaware River, they’re gone from the Earth. They’re gone forever,” said the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s Tracy Carluccio. “And we’re here to say we’re not going to let that happen.”