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sturgeon

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The U.S. and Canada are working to restore populations of a prehistoric fish in the Great Lakes that was nearly wiped out. We went out with a crew of researchers to see what they’re doing to bring the sturgeon back.

sturgeon baby
Photo courtesy of USFS, Rob Elliott

One of the most ancient species in the Great Lakes is the sturgeon. The fish has been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and was once abundant in all five lakes.

But, like many species, its numbers nosedived thanks to overfishing and habitat destruction.

Ed Baker is research station manager at the Marquette Fisheries Research Station of the Department of Natural Resources. He joined Stateside to talk about efforts to restore the region’s sturgeon population.

lake sturgeon
Tennessee Aquarium

The Center for Biological Diversity is petitioning the federal government to protect lake sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center's Mark Finc says there used to be 15 million lake sturgeon in the U.S.  There's now just a few thousand.

While Michigan and some other states have taken steps to protect lake sturgeon, Finc says it's not enough.

"What we have found is it's fairly haphazard," says Finc, "and that it really needs to be more consistent across the board,  instead of just a couple spots here and there."

Hundreds race to catch "dinosaur of a fish"

Feb 13, 2018
A fisherman heads across Black Lake before the sturgeon fishing season starts on February 3.
Morgan Springer / Interlochen Public Radio

This month, hundreds of spear fishers went to Black Lake in northern Michigan. They competed to catch just six lake sturgeon before the fishing season ended. Sturgeon are a state threatened species, and their harvest is tightly regulated.

Men posing with large fish
DNR

Michigan’s shortest hunting or fishing season begins, and likely ends, Saturday morning.

Starting when the clock strikes 8am, more than 300 ice fishermen will take part in this weekend’s Black Lake sturgeon season. 

The prehistoric fish can grow to up to eight feet in length.  

Lake sturgeon are listed as a state threatened species.  After being over-fished for more than a century, the lake sturgeon population has been rebounding slowly. 

Starting in 1997, the annual Black Lake season has been part of the state’s sturgeon management plan. 

DNR Fisheries Biologist Tim Cwalinski holds a sturgeon with Michigan State University students on the Black River.
MSU

Lake sturgeon are a threatened species in Michigan. And there’s one spot in the state where the fish are in particular danger.

One group gets together every year to watch over them, and they want your help.

Most people never see this rare fish -- which is too bad, because they’re quite a sight. Lake sturgeon can live to be 100 years old and can weigh hundreds of pounds.

They spawn in several rivers in Michigan in the spring – but parts of the Black River in the northern-lower-peninsula are shallow, so you can see these fish as they swim upstream.

sturgeon baby
Photo courtesy of USFS, Rob Elliott

This Saturday, 35 baby sturgeon will be released into the Kalamazoo River at a sturgeon release party. It’ll be in New Richmond and it’s open to the public.

Lake sturgeon are ancient fish. They’re Michigan’s oldest and biggest fish species and can live to be more than 100 years old. Many populations of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes were wiped out decades ago, but people have been working to bring them back.   

NOAA

 

The prolonged winter and the ice cover on the Great Lakes could lead to some lasting effects on wildlife.

For one thing, scientists expect that a lot of the fish that people like to catch will be showing up late to the places they usually spawn.

Solomon David is a research scientist at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

David basically chases fish around for a living.

Ohio explores return of sturgeon to Lake Erie

Mar 1, 2014
MI DNR website

PORT CLINTON, Ohio (AP) - Ohio's wildlife agency is looking at bringing a prehistoric fish back to Lake Erie. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is looking into whether it can reintroduce breeding populations of sturgeon to the lake. 

Sturgeon were once plentiful but thought to be all but gone from Lake Erie less than two decades ago.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

It’s been a fantastic summer for one lake sturgeon hatchery in Michigan.

Kazoo Sturgeon / kazoosturgeon.org

It’s near the end of spawning season for Michigan’s oldest and biggest fish species, the lake sturgeon. Overfishing and hydraulic dams built to power industry have wiped out many lake sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes.

A group of people and government agencies are trying to increase the odds the kind of sturgeon specific to the Kalamazoo River will survive.

Sturgeon have been around since the age of dinosaurs. So they’re a lot different from other fish in the Great Lakes. They don’t have a normal skeleton. Instead, they’ve got these bony plates on the outside of their bodies, called scutes. They have no fish scales.

“They’re kind of rubbery on the outside and they are extremely docile, unlike the fish with the flopping and all that,” said Ron Clark. He’s with the Kalamazoo River Sturgeon Restoration Project out of New Richmond.

“They let you move them; they let you hold them,” Clark said.

DNR Fisheries Biologist Tim Cwalinski holds a sturgeon with Michigan State University students on the Black River.
MSU

Lake sturgeon are amazing fish. They can weigh several hundred pounds and they can live to be 100 years old.

Sturgeon used to be abundant throughout the Great Lakes region. But they were overfished, and construction of dams on rivers where they spawn hurt their reproduction. They’re now a state threatened species.

Tim Cwalinski is a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says these days, sturgeon are carefully managed.  There are a few fishing seasons for sturgeon in different parts of the state.

The season for sturgeon in Black Lake in Cheboygan County opens February 2nd. Tim Cwalinski says there are about 1,200 adult sturgeon in the lake.  The quota this year is just six fish total for all the fishermen combined.

sturgeon baby
Photo courtesy of USFS, Rob Elliott

This week, we're focusing on fish for our series Swimming Upstream. And today, Dustin Dwyer has a story about one of the most fascinating fish in the Great Lakes. Sturgeon have been around for more than 100 million years.  Each fish can live more than a hundred years, weigh more than a hundred pounds and stretch eight or nine feet long. But sturgeon have also been the target of overfishing and poaching. Dustin caught up with one group in northern Michigan that's trying to save them.  Here's his story:

So about a month or two ago, I was sitting along the bank of the Black River, way up near Onaway. And I was next to Jesse Hide, who has lived in this area all his life, and watched sturgeon all his life. We were keeping an eye out for sturgeon heading up the river to spawn.

“There's one coming up right there ... he's coming back down now.”

The long, spear-like fish occasionally poke their heads out of the water, like a submarine coming to the surface.