The James River is steeped in history and its story is woven directly into the fabric of America. Early colonists marveled at its riches and settled its banks to create our new country. The James has since been traversed for commerce, tamed by dams and exploited for its natural resources. People have long relied upon the aquatic species in the James for sustenance and economic gain, but some of have since been pushed to the brink of ruin; once abundant, sturgeon, shad, and oyster all face uphill battles. But for most of its upper reaches, the James remains largely intact, but not untouched, draining a huge portion of Virginia and running hundreds of miles from the smallest creeks on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains at its headwaters across the state and into the Bay. This giant of a river remains a premier smallmouth bass fishery in the upstream tributaries and a first class largemouth fishery in the tidal portions. Many more critical fish species rely on this river throughout some portion of their life cycles and return yearly to spawn. Several of these iconic species are represented in this 5000 gallon exhibit, from the striped bass to the Threatened and Endangered shortnose sturgeon. This beautiful exhibit allows visitors a glimpse into the past; a representation of what the James was and may be again – teeming with fishes.
Striped bass Morone saxatilis – The striped bass is one of the iconic species of the Chesapeake Bay. It is a large predatory species that is intimately tied to many other species in the Bay’s ecosystem such as the blue crab and menhaden – and especially humans. As a powerful adversary and an excellent food fish, striped bass are highly prized and generate significant revenue both recreationally and commercially, making effective management key to their survival.
Smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu – Unlike its close relative the largemouth, smallmouths are native to Virginia and have a much more northern range extending into the Great Lakes. Smallies as they are called by fishermen are notoriously strong fighters, and are pound-for-pound one for the strongest freshwater fish.
Largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides – Largemouth bass are the most popular and recognizable freshwater fish in the United States. An entire industry has emerged based upon sport-fishing for this species. They are named for their extremely large mouths, ready and able to gulp prey over half their size from tadpoles to ducklings.
Rock bass Ambloplites rupestris – Rock bass are almost exclusively a riverine species, common only in cool streams and rivers of the Eastern foothills of Virginia. They are also reclusive, hiding along the vegetated banks or amongst boulders, staring down prey with its fiery red eyes.
White perch Morone americana – White perch are one of the more abundant species within the Chesapeake Bay watershed and are a highly valued recreational and commercial species despite their small size. Fishermen admire their scrappiness on hook and line, but it is their mild flavor that most seek them for.
Shortnose sturgeon Acipenser brevirostrum – Sturgeon have prowled Virginia waters for millions of years. These prehistoric leviathans thrived throughout the Bay and its tributaries until the arrival of colonists, but they now teeter on the brink of extinction. There are two sturgeon species native to Virginia, the shortnose sturgeon Acipenser brevirostrum and the much larger Atlantic sturgeon Acipenser oxyrhynchus.