Ontonagon River Lake Sturgeon
Rearing Trailer is Up, Running, and Raising Sturgeon
BY ANNA VARIAN, ASHLAND FWCO
Over the past couple of months the Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) has been working with the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH), Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Ottawa National Forest, and the Upper Peninsula Power Company to set-up a lake sturgeon rearing trailer on the Ontonagon River in Michigan. The Ontonagon River is a tributary to Lake Superior and historically contained a lake sturgeon population; however, habitat destruction and overfishing caused the population to go extinct. In an effort to re-establish a lake sturgeon population stocking with hatchery reared lake sturgeon occurred from 1998-2004, and a streamside rearing facility operated by Michigan DNR and Michigan Tech University (MTU) operated in 2007 and 2008.
In partnership with Michigan DNR, the Ashland FWCO began plans to install a lake sturgeon rearing trailer in 2011 and early this spring a sturgeon rearing trailer constructed by staff at the Genoa NFH was put in place next to the West Branch Ontonagon River near Bergland, Michigan. In May biologists from Genoa NFH and Ashland FWCO installed the pump and piping system, water was run through the trailer and final preparations were made. With water flowing all that was needed were sturgeon eggs.
On May 29th, hopeful, biologists from Michigan DNR, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Technological University, and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa met on the banks of the Sturgeon River in search of spawning sturgeon. The crew was hoping to encounter sturgeon in the range of four to six feet long in the fast water downstream of Prickett Dam. After several hours of observation and numerous lake sturgeon sightings, biologists found an area of the river where the violent thrashing and splashing of several tightly grouped lake sturgeons indicated the fish were actively spawning. As crews on shore prepared equipment to collect eggs and milt and record biological data, others carefully waded into the rapids working together to corral and dip net the spawning sturgeon which ranged in weight from 25 to over 80 pounds. Our goal was to collect eggs from females and milt from males for transport to the sturgeon rearing trailer. After successfully collecting eggs and milt on the river bank, the crew headed for the rearing trailer.
The lake sturgeon rearing trailer on the Ontonagon River is currently home to several thousand lake sturgeon fry and the staff at the Ashland FWCO are proud parents.