Lake Sturgeon Return to Upstate New York
after Summering in Wisconsin
BY DOUG ALOISI, GENOA NFH
Lake sturgeon fingerlings reared in America's heartland of Genoa Wisconsin this summer made the long trek back to upstate New York to be released in historical sturgeon waters of the Empire State. Sturgeon were historically common in the St. Lawrence, Niagara, and Genesee Rivers, as well as throughout the Great Lakes but overharvest, pollution, habitat destruction and barriers to spawning grounds caused large population declines by the early 20th century.
Lake sturgeon are on New York's state Endangered Species list and are a species of concern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due to their low population numbers and unique life history that requires females to reach 20-24 years of age before reaching maturity. Genoa National Fish Hatchery was asked to participate in this restoration effort in 2011 due to its past experience in lake sturgeon egg collections and propagation. New York's St. Lawrence River population of lake sturgeon typically spawns the latest in the spring due to the water source being the cold outflow of the Great Lakes. This usually causes this strain to be stocked out last in the fall, when autumn leaves and water temperatures are dropping at a rapid pace.
This fall 6900 six inch lake sturgeon were placed on a truck and trailer in Wisconsin to make the 24 hour trip. The fish handled well, hauled with no problems and were anxious to get out of the tanks and into their natal waters. Sturgeon stocking is only one of a handful of conservation tools in the toolbox, with habitat and water quality improvements, dam mitigation to minimize impediments to migration and harvest controls also being important tools to consider and employ. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) also raises an equal portion of the egg take from St. Lawrence River Operations in their hatchery system to advance restoration. This was actually Genoa’s second trip east with sturgeon in 2014, with 6,500 four inch fish being stocked out in September. Many thanks go to Scott Schlueter of the Cortland Endangered Species office for coordinating the partnership between the Service and the NYDEC, and providing supportive funding through the Fish Enhancement, Mitigation and Research Outreach fund, a mitigation funding avenue of the Eisenhower Locks of Massena.