The ancient lake sturgeon, a threatened species, is making a modest comeback in the Great Lakes after more than a century of overharvest and habitat destruction.
Even as news spreads of the possible imminent invasion of giant Asian carp in the Great Lakes, there’s also good news — the mammoth, native lake sturgeon is making a comeback, breeding where it hasn’t in decades. Once regarded by European settlers in the region as a trash fish, the sturgeon has long been venerated by Native Americans. Concerted habitat restoration and restocking programs have given new life to the fish, which can live over 100 years and grow to weights of 200 pounds and lengths of greater than six feet. In fact, one Michigan angler a few years ago mistook a resting sturgeon for a floating log — until it swam away.
The comeback is especially welcome news in the Detroit River. Canadian and U.S. officials collaborated on funding to restore sturgeon spawning habitat there, and some natural reproduction is documented in the river.
Also deeply involved in efforts to protect and restore the lake sturgeon are volunteer groups in Michigan and Wisconsin. Sturgeon for Tomorrow, based in Cheboygan, Michigan, helps police strict conservation and anti-poaching requirements during the sturgeon’s lake spring spawning run in the Black River. Volunteer sturgeon guards do the same in Wisconsin.
A new book, People of the Sturgeon, chronicles the history of human appreciation of and restoration of lake sturgeon in Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago.
Photo credit: Lauri Kay Elbing.