Map of Lake Superior showing tributaries with spawning lake sturgeon.
Lake Sturgeon Activities of the Ashland Fishery Resources Office (Ashland FRO)

 

CONTENTS

1. COORDINATION/ASSISTANCE
2. EVALUATION OF REMNANT STOCKS
3. HATCHERY SUPPORT TECHNOLOGY AND BROODSTOCK DEVELOPMENT
4. HABITAT AND REHABILITATION REQUIREMENTS
5.
RESTORATION ACTIVITIES AND EVALUATION

  1. COORDINATION/ASSISTANCE
  2. Lake Superior Lake Sturgeon Subcommittee: Ashland FRO staff have served as chair and participated on the Lake Superior Technical Committee Lake Sturgeon subcommittee since 1993. The subcommittee is currently chaired by Dr. Nancy Auer of Michigan Technological University. Accomplishments of the subcommittee include completion of the report, Status of lake sturgeon in Lake Superior, and development of fish community objectives for lake sturgeon in Lake Superior. In March 1999, the Lake Superior Committee adopted the draft plan, A lake sturgeon rehabilitation plan for Lake Superior. This plan will be finalized in spring 2000.

    Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem Team Lake Sturgeon Committee: The Ecosystem Team identified lake sturgeon restoration as a basin-wide priority, and established a committee to further lake sturgeon restoration efforts throughout the basin. Ashland FRO has participated in activities of the committee and led development of a Great Lakes lake sturgeon brochure.

    Wisconsin Sturgeon Management Assessment Team: Ashland FRO is one of two federal office representatives on the Wisconsin Sturgeon Management Assessment Team. Ashland FRO provides the Team current information regarding lake sturgeon populations in waters of Lake Superior. The Team met for final development of the Wisconsin Sturgeon Management Plan. Plan review continues within Wisconsin DNR, Bureau of Fisheries Management and Habitat Protection.

    Sturgeon Related Workshops: Ashland FRO has participated in inter-agency workshops to interpret lake sturgeon age, internally sex and characterize gonad development of lake sturgeon, and initiate coordination and standardization of lake sturgeon genetics work in the Great Lakes. Knowledge obtained at these workshops has been used to gather data from fishery agency personnel and cooperating tribal fishers in the Lake Superior basin.

  3. EVALUATION OF REMNANT STOCK

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists gather data and tag lake
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists gather data and tag lake
    sturgeon during the spawning run on the Bad River.

    Bad River Adult Assessment: The Bad River, Wisconsin, supports one of two self-sustaining populations of lake sturgeon in U.S. waters of Lake Superior. The lower portion of the river is within the Bad River Indian Reservation, and activity there has been closely coordinated with the tribal government. Since 1994, Ashland FRO has coordinated assessment of spawning lake sturgeon in the Bad River. The objective of this assessment is to collect biological information (length, weight, girth, sex, maturity) and tag spawning lake sturgeon to describe the characteristics of the spawning population. Recapture of tagged fish has provided information on movement, growth, and spawning periodicity. In addition to biological information, fin tissue samples have been collected and sent to The Ohio State University and Michigan State University for genetic analysis. Tribal subsistence fishers have assisted fishery biologists by providing lake sturgeon for biological information, pectoral fins for age interpretation, and fish stomachs for diet analysis.

    Ontonagon River Adult Assessment: The Ontonagon River, Michigan, had a historic lake sturgeon run and may have a remnant population. Ashland FRO surveyed the Ontonagon River for the presence of spawning adult lake sturgeon. No adult lake sturgeon were captured during this survey. Assistance was provided by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

    Keweenaw Bay Indian Community biologists release lake sturgeon
    Keweenaw Bay Indian Community biologists release lake sturgeon
    after gathering biological information.

    Huron and Keweenaw bays Adult Assessment: Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and Ashland FRO cooperatively conducted lake sturgeon assessment in Huron and Keweenaw bays, Michigan. The objectives are to gather biological statistics of sturgeon, to describe their distribution and movement, and habitat (depth and substrate) usage in bays of Lake Superior.

    Lake Sturgeon image

    U.S. Forest Service Project: Upon request from Superior National Forest, Ashland FRO conducted surveys in 1997-1998 to determine if adult lake sturgeon were still present in the Sturgeon River, Minnesota. The study area included that section of the Sturgeon and Shannon River that lies within or adjacent to the proclamation boundaries of the Superior National Forest. During the survey period four adult lake sturgeon were captured in the lower stretches of the Sturgeon River. Suitable spawning habitat appears to be adequate to support lake sturgeon within the upper sections of the river, however, numerous log jams likely block access to upriver reaches.

    This juvenile measured 70 cm and was estimated to be age 7.
    This juvenile measured 70 cm and was estimated to be age 7.

    Lake Superior Juvenile Assessment: Ashland FRO, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, and Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa continue a coordinated sampling effort to survey juvenile lake sturgeon in Lake Superior near the mouth of the Bad River. This cooperative study began in 1993 and has been conducted annually. The objectives of the study are to gather biological and relative abundance data on juvenile lake sturgeon and to describe habitat (depth and temperature) utilized. Previously tagged juvenile lake sturgeon have been recaptured by tribal subsistence fishers and fishery agency biologists. Data from recaptured fish provide information on movement and growth for this life stage.

    Keweenaw Waterway and Ontonagon River Juvenile Assessment: Juvenile lake sturgeon capture efforts have been conducted in the Keweenaw Waterway and Ontonagon River, Michigan. Twenty-six juvenile lake sturgeon were captured in the Waterway. No juveniles were captured in the Ontonagon River. Biological data was recorded from all lake sturgeon captured and fish were marked and released. This work has provided information on juvenile sturgeon movement and life history. Cooperators involved in these efforts included Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Technological University, and Marquette Biological Station.

    Early Life History Assessment: Ashland FRO conducted trawl surveys in the Bad River, Wisconsin and Sturgeon River, Michigan, in cooperation with biologists from the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Marquette Biological Station to determine the duration of river residency, location, and relative number of fingerling lake sturgeon. Surveys were conducted with bottom trawl, backpack electrofisher, seine, and visual observation. In the Bad River, a total of 6 young-of-the year lake sturgeon were captured ranging from 82 to 187 mm. In the Sturgeon River a total of 52 lake sturgeon were captured or observed ranging in length from 55-200 mm. Young-of-the-year lake sturgeon were present through August in both rivers.

    Yolk-sac lake sturgeon 1-3 days post hatch.  Total lenght 9 mm.
    Yolk-sac lake sturgeon 1-3 days post hatch.  Total lenght 9 mm.

    Bad River Larval Assessment: In cooperation with Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Marquette Biological Station, and Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Ashland FRO has conducted surveys to determine the timing and extent of downstream larval drift, to determine the growth of larval lake sturgeon, and determine if lake sturgeon spawn upstream of known spawning areas. A total of 40 larval lake sturgeon were captured from 1997-1998.

  4. HATCHERY SUPPORT TECHNOLOGY AND BROODSTOCK DEVELOPMENT
  5. Midwest Tribal Aquaculture Network: The Midwest Tribal Aquaculture Network is composed of a group of Tribal Fish Hatchery Biologist who are interested in promoting sound fish rearing techniques for Tribal hatchery programs. The primary means by which the MTAN attempts to assist tribal programs is by sharing fish culture information through a quarterly newsletter. The MTAN has published several articles regarding the rearing and spawning of sturgeon. If you would like to learn more about sturgeon spawning techniques, go to the following Internet web site (www.fws.gov/midwest/ashland) and refer to volumes #7, 10, 23, 28, 30, and 31.

    Bad River Egg Collection and Rearing Effort: Lake sturgeon populations in Lake Superior have been extirpated from many historic spawning tributaries and reduced in others. Restoration of the native Lake Superior fish community is a priority of fish management agencies. In the draft document, A lake sturgeon rehabilitation plan for Lake Superior, March 1999, the Lake Sturgeon Subcommittee of the Lake Superior Technical Committee identified stocking as one option for rehabilitation of lake sturgeon in Lake Superior. Fish management agencies have specified the need for a Lake Superior lake sturgeon egg source and rearing facility to assist rehabilitation efforts in Lake Superior.

    Ashland FRO, Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Red Cliff Tribal Hatchery, and Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission conducted a cooperative project to determine the feasibility of gamete collection from Bad River lake sturgeon and to rear and stock the fish in Lake Superior. A plan was developed in 1998 and carried out in 1999. Eggs were collected and incubated at the Bad River and Red Cliff tribal hatcheries. Eggs were successfully hatched at both hatcheries but survival to the fingerling stage did not occur. Funding for this project was obtained by Ashland FRO from US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office and provided to Bad River Natural Resources Department and Red Cliff Tribal Hatchery.

    Sturgeon re-introduction into the upper St. Louis River: The project goal is to restore a self-sustaining lake sturgeon population in the upper St. Louis River, Minnesota, by 2025. To reestablish self-sustaining stocks of lake sturgeon, fertilized eggs will be transferred from a riverine population in the Menominee River (Wisconsin/Michigan). This cooperative project will involve the combined efforts of the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation and the Wisconsin and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The fertilized eggs will be stocked in egg nest boxes on the upper St. Louis River system by Fon du Lac Natural Resources Department and Ashland FRO. Ashland FRO will assist Fon du Lac Natural Resources Department conduct assessment of stocked fish to determine survival, recruitment and growth rate for stocked lake sturgeon in the Upper St. Louis River system.

  6. HABITAT AND REHABILITATION REQUIREMENTS
  7. Ontonagon River FERC Re-license Agreement: Ashland FRO assisted the East Lansing Ecological Services office and participated in negotiation meetings between the Resource Agency Team (USDA Forest Service, Michigan DNR, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, and USFWS), the Upper Peninsula Power Company, and Wisconsin Public Service Corporation regarding FERC relicense of the Bond Falls hydropower facility on the Ontonagon River, Michigan. The Ontonagon River once supported a large run of lake sturgeon, but surveys by Ashland FRO and KBIC, and Michigan DNR, have failed to detect any remnant stock. Work toward finalization of a Bond Falls re-licensing agreement continue.

Biologist using telemetry equipment to conduct juvenile lake sturgeon telemetry studies.

Juvenile Lake Sturgeon Telemetry Studies: Little is known about the distribution, movements, and habitat preferences of juvenile lake sturgeon. The draft document, A lake sturgeon rehabilitation plan for Lake Superior, identifies description of nursery habitats and habitat requirements of juvenile lake sturgeon as a high priority. Ashland FRO, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and Bad River Natural Resources Department have cooperated on telemetry studies to describe the movement and habitat use of juvenile lake sturgeon in Lake Superior. Juvenile lake sturgeon were captured in gill nets set in Lake Superior near the mouth of the Bad River, Wisconsin. In 1996, 13 fish were fitted with external radio transmitters and in 1999, eight fish were and fitted with external ultrasonic transmitters. Fish were tracked during the summer in 1996 and 1999.

5.      RESTORATION ACTIVITIES AND EVALUATION

Adult female lake sturgeon (65 lbs., 62 inches) fitted with radio
Adult female lake sturgeon (65 lbs., 62 inches) fitted with radio
tag on dorsal fin.

Lake Sturgeon/Sea Lamprey Management: The Bad River produces more sea lamprey than any other U.S. tributary to Lake Superior. Ashland FRO led a two year study on spawning run lake sturgeon and walleyes using radiotelemetry to track movements in the Bad River, Wisconsin. The study purpose was to determine if lake sturgeon and walleye migrate upstream of potential sea lamprey barrier locations on the Bad River. Lake sturgeon were captured and tracked upstream of proposed barrier sites. Funding was provided in part from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and cooperators included the Bad River Band of Chippewa, USFWS Marquette Biological Station, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

 

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