A Flying Up Full Moon of August

The Full Moon for this month will be on August 11. To be precise the Moon goes officially 100% full at 9:36 p.m. ET. (That’s 01:36 GMT on August 12.) But if I have a clear night in my neighborhood, I’ll walk outside and look up at it when I have the chance.

You usually hear this August Full Moon called the Sturgeon Moon, but that really only applied to places like the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain where this big fish was easiest to catch at this point in summer.

Sturgeon are very strange prehistoric-looking fish and rightly so as they have been traced back to around 136 million years ago.

Secretary bird leaves treetop nest.Secretary bird leaving nest  – via Flickr

This year I chose the Flying Up Moon, a Cree term for the Full Moon that was used to mark this time when young birds seemed to be ready to leave the nest – the Flying Up Moon.

But those fish are pretty interesting. The word “sturgeon” means “stirrer,” and that is what this giant fish does to the muddy river and lake bottoms as it looks for food. The females require around 20 years to start reproducing, and they can only reproduce every 4 years – but they can live up to 150 years. They are not exactly the same as in prehistoric times when they were the size of bass. There are more than 20 species and some can get to be the size of a small car (about 10 feet).

sturgeon

I saw a sturgeon once in my home state of New Jersey in the Delaware River. That is the habitat of New Jersey’s only endangered fish species. It was a shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) and big, but not compact car big. The ones in NJ were fished almost to extinction in the past centuries because caviar is made from the roe (eggs) of different breeds of sturgeon.

A more likely Native American name for this month in the land of Paradelle would be Corn Moon which was used by the Algonquin and Ojibwe. Depending on what tribes were in your part of America the name might have been Harvest Moon (Dakota), Ricing Moon (Anishinaabe), while the Assiniboine people named this period Black Cherries Moon, referring to when chokecherries become ripe.


The August Sturgeon Full Moon

fishing by the full moon

Looking over the possible names for this month’s Full Moon (occurring Sunday, August 10th in 2014), this year I chose the Full Sturgeon Moon. It is not the most Romantic of Full Moon names, but is one that was used by some Native American tribes, particularly the Algonquin, who noted that this fish in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most readily caught during this Full Moon.

Here in Paradelle, the sturgeon is an endangered species. It is not a fish you will find on menus. The sturgeon family is among the most primitive of the bony fishes.

The shortnose sturgeon has a body that contains five rows of bony plates or “scutes.” Sturgeon are typically large, long-lived fish. Atlantic sturgeon have been aged to 60 years. They inhabit fast-moving freshwater rivers, lakes and, for some species, into the offshore marine environment of the continental shelf.  Atlantic sturgeon are similar in appearance to shortnose sturgeon but are larger in size with a smaller mouth and different snout shape.

In their estuarine and freshwater habitats, Atlantic sturgeon face threats from habitat degradation and loss from various human activities such as dredging, dams, water withdrawals and even ship strikes.

Atlantic Sturgeon

You may know that the delicacy caviar is salted sturgeon eggs which has been long associated with Russia and as a “treat of the tsars.” I have written elsewhere about the surprising history of New Jersey caviar.

In short, the Delaware Bay and Delaware River was one of the most productive sturgeon fisheries in the country in the late 1800s and the United States was the world’s top caviar exporter. A small town in New Jersey was named Caviar (or Caviar Point) because of its processing plant and railroad spur for sending the caviar north through the Pine Barrens to New York City.

In 1895, they were shipping 15 train cars of caviar and smoked sturgeon every day out of NJ. The fish were plentiful, but taking the females for their eggs, increasing demand and the species being one that is slow-maturing meant that this overfishing crashed the population and the business in the early 20th century.

Atlantic sturgeon were placed on the federal endangered species list. But Atlantic sturgeon were not eliminated from the Delaware River. The estimated 300 to 500 adult females that spawn there now is a very “endangered” population when compared to the estimated 180,000 breeding sturgeon believed to be in the bay prior to 1890, New Jersey monitors migration patterns and the slow comeback of the species.

American Indian names for the Full Moons, which was their calendar, always took note of the natural world.  August’s Full Moon was called the Green Corn Moon (being still early for some corn harvests in the north), Grain Moon, the Wheat Cut Moon (San Ildefonso, and San Juan Indians), Moon When All Things Ripen (Dakotah Sioux), the Moon When Cherries Turn Black or the Blueberry Moon (Ojibway).

Europeans and American Colonists took on much of the native information about the seasons but still tended to use names like Red Moon (for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze), Mating Moon, Dog’s Day Moon (constellation), Woodcutter’s Moon, Chokeberry Moon, Summertime Moon, Corn Moon, and the Barley Moon.

Continuing with our Sturgeon Moon theme this month, we might wonder if fishing and fish activity changes when there is a Full Moon. That’s debatable and probably more about Moon Lore than about science. There are entire blogs devoted to Full Moons that I follow and there are plenty of theories.

The moonlight attracts or repels fish, depending on your beliefs and experiences. Of course, the actual fullest moment of the Moon isn’t always at night. It could occur during the day, so any influence would be felt then. This month, the Moon reaches its “full” moment in Paradelle in the afternoon at 02:09:24 pm (EDT) and on the Pacific coast it will be at 11:09:24 am. In Moscow, they can eat caviar, drink vodka and watch the Moon become full at 10:09:24 pm (MSK).

And, while we are thinking about the relativity of lunar events, this very Northern Hemisphere-centric blogger takes note that on the bottom half of this planet it is now time for the Snow Moon, Storm Moon, Hunger Moon, or Wolf Moon.