A remnant of the dinosaur age, the lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) population in Michigan is estimated to be about one percent of its former abundance. Over the past century, sturgeon numbers in the Detroit River have been greatly reduced by channelization, loss of coastal wetlands, filling/armoring shorelines, water pollution, and the removal of limestone bedrock that provided important spawning habitat for a multitude of native fishes. In 2001, lake sturgeon reproduction was documented off Zug Island in U.S. waters of the Detroit River for the first time in three decades. With recent improvements in water quality, scientists determined that habitat is probably the factor most limiting sturgeon productivity. Subsequently, lake sturgeon spawning habitat was created in the Detroit River off Belle Isle in Detroit, off Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Ontario, off McKee Park in Windsor, Ontario, off Fighting Island in LaSalle, Ontario, and in the Trenton Channel in Riverview, Michigan.
The area surrounding Fighting Island has been well known as an important spawning and nursery area for lake sturgeon historically and thus was targeted as a potential habitat construction site. Recent research by the Service, USGS and MDNR has shown that water velocity and depth characteristics off the northeast corner of Fighting Island are ideal for spawning, and the river bed is capable of supporting a constructed reef.
The Fighting Island Sturgeon Spawning Reef is the first ever fish habitat restoration project in the Great Lakes funded with both U.S. and Canadian dollars. In 2009, scientists documented successful reproduction of lake sturgeon on the newly constructed Fighting Island spawning reef, representing the first time in 30 years that this threatened species has successfully reproduced in Canadian waters of the Detroit River.
Partners in the project include: Environment Canada, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Essex Region Conservation Authority, U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center, Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Detroit River Canadian Cleanup, BASF Corporation, DTE Energy, Landmark Engineers Inc., International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Sea Grant, and Wildlife Habitat Council.
Today lake sturgeon are considered a species of special concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a globally rare species by The Nature Conservancy, and is listed as “threatened” by 19 of the 20 Great Lakes states, including Michigan. However, recent, incidental catches of genetically unique, juvenile lake sturgeon in Lake Erie near the Detroit River suggest that the species is reproducing successfully in the Detroit River. Learn more about this fascinating species.
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Hunting opportunities are available on select units of the Refuge. For more information about Detroit River IWR's hunt program download the refuge hunt brochure.