Fish and Aquatic Conservation



illustration of a Lake sturgeon

Lake sturgeon

Acipenser fulvescens (Rafinnesque, 1817)

Cool Facts

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with the states, Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, Canada and regional fish commissions to help manage, conserve, restore and protect precious lake sturgeon populations. Naturally reproducing populations of lake sturgeon within a tributary usually indicates the tributary contains healthy fish habitat. Lake sturgeon are one of the longest‐lived freshwater fish in the world with one specimen landed in in 1952 that was reputedly 152 years old.

SIZE: The largest specimen on record weighed 310 lbs. or 140 kg.

RANGE: Lake sturgeon are found in the Mississippi River, Hudson Bay and the Great Lakes.

HABITAT: Lake Sturgeon inhabit large river and lake systems, usually in depths of the 5 to 9 meters (16 ft. 5 in. – 29 ft. 6 in). They are also known to inhabit brackish water.

DIET: Lake sturgeon are omnivorous and eat by sucking up food with their mouths. They usually locate their food with the aid of their sensitive barbels, which they drag over river and lake bottoms. Lake Sturgeon feed on insect larvae, crayfish, snails, clams and leeches.

Natural History

Lake sturgeon are a long‐lived species. They are the only sturgeon species endemic to the Great Lakes Basin and are the largest freshwater fish indigenous to this system. Lake sturgeon spawn in their natal rivers and prefer rocky areas in freshwater tributaries, usually along the outside bend of rivers as suitable spawning habitat.

Conservation

Poaching and commercial overharvesting have decimated all of the sturgeon populations throughout the world because of the high demand for their caviar. The fate of lake sturgeon populations within the United States is no different from the rest of the world. As a result of commercial overharvesting, lake sturgeon populations within the U.S. were close to extinction by 1900. Lake Sturgeon are currently listed as either threatened or endangered by 19 of the 20 states they inhabit.

Multiple factors have contributed to the decline of lake sturgeon habitat and their historical range. These factors include pollution, the construction of dams along their natural migration routes, the siltation of streams and tributaries resulting from deforestation, increases in agricultural activities and lake dredging.

In recent years, lake sturgeon populations are now beginning to increase. Factors contributing to their increasing numbers include recent partnerships developed throughout the Great Lakes basin between natural resource management agencies, commercial fishermen, recreational fisherman, and landowners.