Chasing Lake Sturgeon in the Detroit River
BY MARGARET HUTTON, ALPENA FWCO - WATERFORD MI SUBSTATION
There are 26 different sturgeon species worldwide. We are fortunate enough to have one of these species call the Great Lakes
home. The distribution of lake sturgeon extends throughout the Great Lakes, into the Mississippi River basin, along with Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Lake sturgeon are the largest fish species within the Great Lakes, growing up to seven-feet in length and living to more than 100 years of age.
The history of the Great Lakes is riddled with stories of lake sturgeon. Once, so abundant, lake sturgeon were considered to be a nuisance fish species damaging commercial fishing gear due to their large size. Fisherman began to harvest them for their meat and eggs, which are used for caviar. Overfishing, along with pollution and habitat loss have all contributed to the decline of the population which is estimated to be at less than 1% of their original numbers.
Fisheries biologists working out of the Waterford Substation of the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office are in the process of obtaining data to better estimate the population of lake sturgeon in the Detroit River. These U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists have finished their spring lake sturgeon monitoring for the 2013 field season, catching almost 40 lake sturgeon in the Detroit River.
In 2008, USFWS fisheries biologists and project partners constructed an artificial spawning reef within the Detroit River near Fighting Island to increase the amount of habitat for native species, such as lake sturgeon, to spawn. Many of the lake sturgeon were captured near this reef in the Detroit River. The largest lake sturgeon caught this year was five-feet nine-inches and weighed in at just over 100 pounds.
The Service has been monitoring lake sturgeon in the Detroit River since 2003. With the information collected this year and previous years, it is estimated that 5,000 individual lake sturgeon utilize the Detroit River during the spawning season. While being an important historical figure in the Great Lakes past, lake sturgeon are also considered an indicator species, with specific parameters for their survival within a river system.
Clean water, an abundant food source, and special spawning habitat, such as a rocky bottom and fast flowing water, are just a few of the necessities for lake sturgeon. The USFWS, along with many partners, is currently in the process of creating more lake sturgeon spawning habitat in the St. Clair-Detroit River System in an effort to increase the size of this population.
To learn more about how we are conserving Lake sturgeon, visit http://www.fws.gov/midwest/sturgeon/