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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Hide and Go Seek, the Lake Sturgeon Edition

Region 3, July 1, 2013
Supervisory fish biologist Darryl Hondorp with the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center implanting an acoustic transmitter on an adult lake sturgeon captured in the Detroit River.
Supervisory fish biologist Darryl Hondorp with the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center implanting an acoustic transmitter on an adult lake sturgeon captured in the Detroit River. - Photo Credit: n/a
Fisheries Biologist, James Boase, inserting a transmitter into an adult lake sturgeon.  This transmitter will send signals to acoustic receivers throughout lakes Huron and Erie for the next ten years.
Fisheries Biologist, James Boase, inserting a transmitter into an adult lake sturgeon. This transmitter will send signals to acoustic receivers throughout lakes Huron and Erie for the next ten years. - Photo Credit: n/a

For nearly twenty years, organizations have been studying lake sturgeon in the Huron-Erie Corridor. Within the Huron-Erie Corridor  there are thought to be three main spawning populations; one in the Detroit River, one in lower St. Clair River, and the last in Southern Lake Huron near Port Huron, Michigan. While we understand that lake sturgeon are utilizing these locations within the corridor, little is known about where lake sturgeon travel before and after they spawn.

Lake sturgeon are potamodromous species, meaning for a majority of their life they live in the larger lakes, but travel up streams and rivers to locations with rocky habitat to spawn. Lake sturgeon do not spawn on an annual basis. Male lake sturgeon will only spawn every two to four years, while female lake sturgeon will wait four to seven years between spawning events. Within this time frame, little is known about the lake sturgeon’s life history. Previous tagging efforts, using external tags and Passive Integration Tags (PIT), have shown that lake sturgeon can travel great distances. Lake sturgeon caught and tagged in the corridor have been recorded in areas as far as eastern Lake Erie and Green Bay, Wisconsin.

A new project funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust titled, “Lake sturgeon meta-population structure: migration pathways, spawning fidelity, and survival in a complex river-lake ecosystem” is about to answer some of the questions regarding fish movement in the Huron-Erie Corridor. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fish biologists from the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office – Waterford Substation have partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in order to tag sexually mature, adult lake sturgeon in the corridor with acoustic transmitters.

The new transmitters will allow biologist to collect more continuous data compared to the external and PIT tags. With these transmitters, the fish does not have to be recaptured for the scientists to receive information. To date, 160 adult lake sturgeon have been implanted with transmitters by project partners. Lake sturgeon movements are currently being monitored using an acoustic telemetry array, with 77 receivers deployed within or in close proximity to the corridor. The lake sturgeon captured will still be tagged with external Floy and Monel tags for recreational anglers to report information on length and location by calling the telephone number on the tag with the corresponding lake sturgeon fish number, also located on the tag.

Preliminary movement results are consistent with previous theories that three spawning populations exist, however more data is needed to fully assess movement patterns of adults within this system. The results of this study will provide insight regarding potential spawning locations, seasonal movement patterns, and survival of this threatened fish species.

Contact Info: Margaret Hutton, 248-891-2762, margaret_hutton@fws.gov