Forgotten History: Atlantic Sturgeon

Rebirth and renewal- Springtime means many things for all forms of life- plants that were long dormant burst through the soil to start a new year, bees leave the hive and start their search for nectar, Bears come out of hibernation to look for food, and let’s not for forget about one of the most historically anticipated returns – the yearly migration of fish to their spawning grounds.
The yearly Spring runs were an important food source and highly anticipated by the Native Americans all along the East Coast. We brought this up when we discussed the American Shad, but there were other fish that were important too. Striped Bass is probably the most famous one, but there is one that most people forget- the Atlantic Sturgeon.
The Sturgeon was a valuable foodstuff for thousands of years for the Native populations, a prehistoric looking fish, very large and slow moving, they were speared from canoes and hauled to shore. The early colonists didn’t want anything to do with the fish, being a food the Natives ate, it was seen as a trash fish. It wasn’t until the Eastern and the Northern Europeans came when they realized the potential and started to target it. The potential was the caviar, that up until then was thrown away or fed to animals. An entire industry rose up harvesting sturgeon to process caviar, making products with the skin and swim bladder, smoking, salting, and pickling the meat- a lot being shipped down to the South for cheaper food for the enslaved on plantations. It was also sold here on the streets of Fishtown. Of course, the story of the sturgeon ends how most of our stories end- with unregulated industry, infinite consumption, and disregard for the environment where it lived – the population plummeted and the Atlantic Sturgeon is an endangered species.
My dish is a beautiful piece of sturgeon roasted in the oven over some nettles and onions. Maybe we don’t think of it as signifying Spring, but the populations in the past that have lived here before us would have.