Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
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Engaging a community in lake sturgeon conservation

A young of the year lake sturgeon. Photo by USFWS.

A young of the year lake sturgeon. Photo by USFWS.

By Will Tucker
Indiana Ecological Services Field Office

This October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was invited to an open house at the C.D. “Buzz” Besadny Anadromous Fish Facility in Kewaunee, Wisconsin. In collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Service conducted a lake sturgeon health assessment at the Kewaunee River streamside rearing facility. Streamside rearing facilities are smaller than traditional fish hatcheries, but they have the benefit of exposing fish to waters in which they will be released. For a species like lake sturgeon, this means that the fish will be able to imprint on that water instead of an inland pond so that, in 15 to 30 years when the sturgeons mature, they will be able to find their way back to the Kewaunee River to spawn.

Stephanie Hummel and Amber Bellamy from the Service’s Midwest Regional Office and Will Tucker from the Indiana Ecological Services Field Office set up an interactive display to share information on contaminants of emerging concern in the Great Lakes Basin and how they affect fish health. Visitors to the booth were invited to review informational posters on how chemicals are introduced and move through the environment, ask biologists questions about the effects of chemical pollutants in the environment, and play a fishing game focused on contaminants of emerging concern. Attendees used a small fishing pole to catch a wooden fish from a simulated pond. Each fish had the name of a chemical that has been detected in water in Great Lakes tributaries. Then the fisher was asked to look at a table displaying common household items and try to correctly pick out the one which contains that chemical. As a prize for playing, visitors were rewarded with temporary tattoos featuring a sturgeon from this year’s assessment.

Prior to the open house, the Service completed the second and final field season of the lake sturgeon health assessment. The assessment is tracking hatching success, growth, and survival of lake sturgeons reared at the rearing facilities and comparing them to chemical concentrations in the water used at the facilities. Special attention is being given to a class of flame retardant chemicals knowns as PBDEs. PBDEs are easily taken up into the body and difficult to get rid of. Additionally, PBDEs have been shown to mimic thyroid hormones, which affect growth and are vital to a sturgeon’s ability to imprint on its birth waters.

In total, the open house drew in more than 1,500 local citizens who were able to interact with wildlife management efforts while engaging in activities including salmon egg collection demonstrations, fish processing demonstrations, viewing of spawning Coho salmon and adopting a sturgeon.

Last updated: June 8, 2020