Enormous Leaping Fish Knock Out Florida Boaters

This is no fish tale, but a true story about what happens when fish and recreational boating don't play well together.

Pos, Robert, H.

A Florida woman was hit by a leaping 60-70-pound sturgeon while boating with her family on the Suwanee River on June 2, reports the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The impact was so hard that it sent the Chiefland woman into the water, unconscious. Her husband dove into the water to rescue her and brought her to nearby Manatee Springs Park in North Florida, where she was then airlifted to Shands Hospital in Gainesville with multiple injuries.

It's not the first leap-and-run incident in the area. Suwannee River sturgeons are suspected in another giant leaping fish encounter in May, when an Old Town resident was struck as he planned a relaxing day on the water. None of the fish responsible were apprehended.

FWC officers report that the increasing numbers of unprovoked fish attacks have been responsible for dozens of injuries. In 2011, six boaters were injured when the big fish took the leap… something they've done for millions of years, but which can have very serious consequences for the unfortunate boaters. In May, 2011, a 5-foot sturgeon leapt through the window of a vessel, injuring passengers with flying glass before it landed in the vessel, but not before doing significant damage.

Sturgeon can grow to an immense size; they've been known to reach eight feet in length and can weigh more than 200 pounds. Their population can reach as many as 14,000 fish, and the Suwannee seems to support the largest numbers of fish during their river spawning.

Despite their huge size and natural armor, the fish are a federally protected species. It's illegal to harvest Gulf sturgeon.

Since these collisions happen with increasing numbers as boaters enter the sturgeon's waters, the FWC wants boaters to be aware of the fish and the potential for injury - to everyone. They recommend taking it slow and keeping a low profile, quite literally, while boating on the Suwannee; while there's no way to predict where or when the fish will jump, keeping your speed down, sticking to shallower water and staying off the bow of the boat will help to minimize the likelihood of an incident.

Boaters in North Florida are advised to use caution and to report all incidents of collisions to 888-404-FWCC (3922).