Proceedings of the 2004 Great Lakes Lake Sturgeon Coordination Meeting

Basin Oriented Sessions: Lake Michigan Basin

The discussion was started with introductions by participants including a brief description of their affiliation and suggestions of topics to cover during this group discussion.

Doug Aloisi, Ed Baker, John Bauman, Andrea Drauch, Rob Elliott (facilitator), Brant Fisher, Marty Holtgren, Adrienne Kral, Steve Lennart, Stephanie Ogren, Jeremy Pyatskowit, Don Reiter, Randy Seymore, Larry Thompson, John Weisser.

Major Topics Covered:
- Assessment project updates
- Management project updates
- Fish passage activities
- General sturgeon observations
- Tagging/marking updates and issues
- Tributary Inventory meta-database status
- Lake Michigan Lake Sturgeon Task Group update
- Upcoming funding opportunities.

Discussion Summary:
Assessment Project Updates

Updates were provided for several sturgeon related projects that are ongoing around the basin.

Funding from the GLFT was secured to continue the Lake Michigan Status Assessment project for the 2005 field season. This project began in 2002 and involves work on nearly all known remnant populations in Lake Michigan by a large group of co-PIs. Objectives include determining reproductive status, abundance, age structure, habitat use and genetic characteristics of both known spawning populations and fish collected at large throughout the lake (contact Auer, Baker, Elliott, Galarowicz, Kornely, Lennart, Peterson, Scribner, Sutton. Genetics results presented during day 1 of this meeting). Similar genetic characterization work is being conducted in Indiana tributaries of the Mississippi drainage basin (contact Brant Fisher).

The 2002-2003 study of juvenile life history in the Peshtigo River was completed July 2004 (results presented during day 1 of this meeting, contact Trent Sutton and Angie Benson).

A 2003-2004 evaluation of recruitment success, habitat preference, and river retention of young lake sturgeon in the Big Manistee River is nearing completion (contact Marty Holtgren, Nancy Auer, and Justin Chiotti).

A 2003-2005 review of the historic written record to infer historical distribution and abundance in the Lake Michigan basin (contact Phil Cochran and Rob Elliott).

A Green Bay tributaries habitat assessment and decision tool project focusing on Green Bay tributaries is being conducted 2004-2005 (Project status presented during day 1 of this meeting, contact Dan Daugherty and Trent Sutton).

A genetic analysis of the upper Menominee River lake sturgeon populations is being initiated in 2005-2006 to help assess population status, abundance and reproductive success (contact Brian Sloss).

A Great Lakes tributary inventory database of meta-data describing the types of lake sturgeon information that have been collected or are available and associated contact people and literature references is nearing completion. Once posted on the web in early 2005, people will be able to update and submit additional information (database demonstrated during this meeting’s evening social, contact Emily Zollweg).

Management Project Updates

Wisconsin DNR will be stocking fall fingerling sturgeon in the Milwaukee River in December. All fish will have an RV clip and many will also be PIT tagged. Larvae were stocked in the Milwaukee and Manitowoc in spring of 2003 and then a few telemetry tagged juveniles and adults were released in fall of 2003. The intent is to employ streamside rearing in future years for this long-term stocking initiative (contact Brad Eggold).

Reintroduction efforts by WDNR continue in the upper Menominee River where varying numbers of fall fingerling and yearling sturgeon have been stocked for many years. Further regulation changes for the Menominee River fall harvest season aimed at protecting this population continue to be planned (Poster presented during this meetings evening social, contact Greg Kornely).

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians initiated a study in 2004 to compare the early-life history performance of streamside reared and wild reared sturgeon in the Big Manistee River. Wild collected larvae were reared streamside to a size where they could be tagged and then released back into the Manistee R. as fingerlings. This will be an ongoing effort by the LRBOI. (Project description presented during day 1 of this meeting, contact Marty Holtgren).

Adult sturgeon were again collected from the Wolf River, tagged with transmitters, and transplanted into the upper Wolf River through cooperative efforts between the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin and Wisconsin DNR as part of efforts to reestablish a spawning population in the upper Wolf River. Fingerlings raised at Genoa NFH also have continued to be stocked into an inland lake within the Menominee Indian reservation and a winter fishery may be opened on that lake in 2005 (contact Jeremy Pyatskowit and Don Reiter).

Lampricide treatments in state-designated lake sturgeon streams were managed to control sea lampreys and protect populations of lake sturgeons in the Millecoquins, Manistique, Whitefish and Platte rivers during 2004 (contact John Weisser).

Fish Passage Opportunities

There was a short discussion about various barrier and passage initiatives in some L. Michigan tributaries. The White Rapids Dam on the Menominee River has been discussed as a potential site for field testing the race-track design fishway described by Boyd Kynard during the morning presentations but a final decision to proceed with installation has not yet reached. The sea lamprey control program has proposed a new sea lamprey barrier on the Cedar River. Sea lamprey control personnel are consulting with FWS and MDNR on the type of fish passage and consideration is being given to the potential need for sturgeon passage in the future. The dam near the mouth of the Manistique River is failing and permitting passage of lamprey. Lampricide treatments are now required and are very costly due to the size of the watershed (largest in the Upper Peninsula). Work is in progress to design a sea lamprey barrier. The pros and cons associated with fish passage are being discussed with the FWS and the MDNR. Excellent habitat for sturgeon exists above this barrier so passage could be very beneficial for rehabilitation in this system (contact Ed Baker).

General Sturgeon Observations and Data Collection

It was discussed that biological data should be collected from incidental captures of sturgeon whenever possible, including a genetic sample (fin tissue snip placed in scale envelope and air dried). Numbers of fish encountered incidental to other fishery assessments appear to be increasing in recent years and at numerous locations around the lake, not just in areas adjacent to known spawning rivers. If measures of total or fork length and girth at taken, weight (and age) can be estimated. Fish should be examined and scanned for several types of tags (see tagging discussion below) and characterization of sea lamprey marks may also be valuable. Genetic samples also may eventually be able to be used to determine sex, depending on success of current research efforts at Purdue University.

The occurrence of dead sturgeon in Green Bay during late summer of the past 3 years and its likely association with Botulism was described (contact Rob Elliott). A few fish have also washed up in southern L. Michigan. Doug Carlson provided a Powerpoint presentation during the sturgeon health breakout group the day before describing similar mortalities in Lake Erie and Ontario in recent years and the apparent association with zebra muscles, gobies, and increased algal growth.

Tagging/marking updates and issues

The GLFT has provided funding to supply most agencies around Lake Michigan with additional PIT tag readers and tagging materials in 2005 (contact Erik Olsen). There is also a coordinated PIT order being put together for everyone needing tags (contact Rob Elliott). The question of starting to use the ISO standard 134 kHz tags instead of the 125 kHz tags was discussed (same cost). New and future advancements in antenna technologies are being developed for the ISO tags that would be nice to take advantage of. The new PIT tag readers as well as many existing readers that people are using will read both tag frequencies, but there are some older readers that would need to be replaced if some people started to use the ISO tags. Rob Elliott will investigate further and provide more details prior to placing the coordinated tag order.

Though most people are injecting PIT tags under the anterior dorsal scutes, a few fish have apparently been tagged elsewhere in some of the other lakes so it is a good idea to scan the entire fish for possible tags. Numerous fish in L. Michigan have been tagged with various floy and monel tags, often in addition to PIT tags. Elastomere marking and microtags (CWTs) have occasionally been used for some fish stocked in the Menominee River, and fish stocked in the Milwaukee R. this year will have an RV clip. CWTs also have been used to mark hatchery fish stocked in L Superior. Be prepared to check captured fish over closely for numerous tag types.

The creation of a Great Lakes lake sturgeon tag database is back on tap for 2005. This database will provide a web based means to identify a contact person(s) for recaptures of sturgeon containing PIT tags as well as other tag types (contact Adam Kowalski or Rob Elliott).

Lake Michigan Lake Sturgeon Task Group update

This task group is organized under the GLFC Lake Michigan Committee and Lake Michigan Technical Committee structure. Membership is open to all interested. Steering committee members are Rob Elliott (chair), Ed Baker, Marty Holtgren and Brad Eggold. A draft version of a Lake Sturgeon Rehabilitation Plan for Lake Michigan that was developed following input from the first Task Group meeting in September 2003 was circulated for review in December 2003. Comments are still welcome. A smaller work group dealing specifically with the genetic conservation, propagation and stocking section of the Plan met in June 2004. A draft of that section is currently out for review by the members of that work group, after which it will be distributed to all Task Group members for review (presentation given during day I of this meeting, contact Rob Elliott, Ed Baker, Brad Eggold or Marty Holtgren). Additional small work groups are focusing on priority rankings of rivers for rehabilitation, identifying and inventorying critical habitat, developing standardized assessment and data analysis procedures. Rob Elliott has been asked to prepare a lake sturgeon section and presentation for the upcoming State of Lake Michigan report at the March GLFC Lake Committee meetings. He will be contacting people for input and review of what needs to be prepared.

Upcoming funding sources

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission has put out a call for proposals for Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act funding. There are a number of priority research needs identified for lake sturgeon in Lake Michigan. Preproposals are due in December. The Great Lakes Fishery Trust request for proposals (including those for sturgeon research) should be coming out in December with preproposals due in late January, 2005. This timeline for sturgeon proposals has been moved up to match the timing for their other fisheries research categories, to allow for a longer proposal review period, and to keep the proposal submission dates from conflicting with spring field work. Fox River Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) funds are another potential source of funding available for sturgeon restoration work within the Green Bay basin.

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