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Another Florida boater encounters jumping sturgeon

Just three days after Florida officials issued a warning to boaters to beware of jumping sturgeon, a 25-year-old woman broke a leg when a sturgeon jumped into an airboat last weekend on the Suwannee River.

Witnesses say the sturgeon was 5 to 6 feet long and weighed 60 to 75 pounds, according to media reports.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers said Tina Fletcher was the fifth report this year of a person injured by a jumping sturgeon.

The four previous encounters included:

April 27: A woman was injured when a sturgeon crashed through her boat's windshield, showering her with glass. She had minor injuries.

May 14: Another woman was injured when a sturgeon struck her on the back as she was boating on the river.

May 16: A man reported that a sturgeon jumped into his boat, glancing off the windshield. The operator was not injured, but his boat sustained about $300 damage when the fish broke his windshield.

May 23: A sturgeon reportedly jumped into a boat near Fanning Springs Park, causing minor damage to the boat, but no injuries.

In 2006, FWC officials began a public-awareness campaign to alert boaters to the risks of jumping sturgeon.

“With all the people who are going to be on the water this weekend, we just want to remind folks to enjoy themselves, but be aware of their surroundings," commission officer Lee Beach said in a statement.

“We recommend boaters reduce their speed to reduce the risk of impact and to give people more time to react if they do encounter a jumping sturgeon,” Beach added.

The Suwannee River appears to support the largest viable population of Gulf of Mexico sturgeon. Biologists estimate the annual population at 10,000 to14,000 fish, averaging about 40 pounds apiece. Adult fish spend eight to nine months each year in the river spawning and three to four of the coolest months in Gulf waters, according to the commission.

“I have seen these encounters referred to as ‘attacks.' However, these fish are in no way attacking when they jump,” said Allen Martin, regional freshwater fisheries biologist, in a statement. “They are simply doing what they have been doing for millions of years: jumping. They aren't targeting the boaters.”