The Great Sturgeon Migration Begins!
BY DOUG ALOISI, GENOA NFH
Office, offloads fingerling lake sturgeon from a
Genoa NFH stocking truck. Credit: Eric
Lake sturgeon fingerlings reared for two months at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) were returned to their native land of upper New York State (NY) this past month. Genoa NFH has participated in a cooperative restoration effort with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service New York Field Office (NYFO), and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation restoring sturgeon since 2012. Restoration efforts have been refined and the modest numbers of the first year have increased from 900 fall fingerlings returned to NY in 2012 to an estimated 20,000 scheduled for a return trip home in 2015.
The summer shipment of 10,000 four inch lake sturgeon fingerlings returned this past week was the first installment of fish to waters in the St. Lawrence River basin and Lake Ontario. Lake sturgeon are currently estimated to be at less than five percent of their historic numbers in the Great Lakes basin, and with their unique life history sturgeon populations are very slow to recover. Stocking for restoration reduces the amount of time when egg and fry predation is high, allowing for maximum juvenile recruitment. Sturgeon fry grow fast in their first year of life in order to avoid predation. In one growing season, an average lake sturgeon can approach eight to ten inches in length.
Sturgeon restoration is a long term proposition, in order to not only ensure there is enough genetic contribution in the stocked population to sustain itself, and to create many strong year classes to ensure mating success. A healthy lake sturgeon population may consist of 20 separate year classes with adults ranging from 20 to 75 years of age. Even though we are in the beginning stages of the project, it is encouraging to be able to see the fruits of another successful year class swimming back into the wild. The hatchery owes many thanks to Scott Schlueter of the Service’s NYFO, for his assistance in stocking this summer’s lot of lake sturgeon.