In the wake of recent news about restoring the waters of Lake Erie, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is looking to restore the sturgeon as well. Only about 20 years ago, all the sturgeon in the lake were believed to have died off. The agency wants to introduce breeding fish into Lake Erie in an effort towards revival of the sturgeon population.
Currently, the lake sturgeon is under watch by numerous agencies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers the fish to be a species of special concern. The American Fisheries Society and the State of Michigan have classified lake sturgeon as a threatened species. In addition, the Nature Conservancy has labeled the fish as a globally rare species.
Sturgeon were once abundant in Lake Erie. Because they often caused damage to near shore fishing gear, they were frequently destroyed. In later years, the eggs and smoked flesh of the fish were considered a delicacy and many were killed for consumption. Because of their limited spawning cycle, the destruction of their spawning habitats, and the over harvesting by fishermen, the fish was almost totally eliminated. To combat losing the species altogether, the ODNR would like to bring about the revival of the Lake Erie sturgeon.
Lake sturgeon are considered to be a good indicator of the health of an eco-system because they are particularly sensitive to human disturbances and pollution. Lake Erie is currently undergoing plans for water restoration to eliminate large algal blooms resulting mostly from phosphorous runoff. While the International Joint Commission is looking to clean up the lake’s waters, the ODNR is looking to increase the population of these prehistoric-looking fish.
The lake sturgeon is large, possibly weighing in at over 200 pounds. The fish can grow to more than six feet in length and is Ohio’s largest species. The fish has a long, pointed snout and sports bony plates instead of scales. Their tails are characteristically shark-like and their bodies sport a color range of olive to gray which graduates to a yellow or possibly a white belly.
One of the impediments to raising the sturgeon numbers in Lake Erie is the fish’s own reproductive cycle. Female lake sturgeon may only spawn once every several years. Adding to that hurdle is the fact that the lake sturgeon females generally do not reproduce until they are around 20 years old. The fish that have recently been seen in Lake Erie are thought to be juveniles down from either the Detroit River or the St. Clair River.
Conservation efforts are beginning to be underway for both the water of Lake Erie and its fish. The future may see not only a lessening of algae blooms caused by phosphorous runoff but also a resurgence of the lake’s aquatic population. Ohio’s state wildlife biologists, functioning through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, will be working toward the protection of those sturgeon already living in the Great Lake while at the same time attempting to introduce new breeding populations. Their ultimate goal will be to bring about a revival of the Lake Erie sturgeon.
By Dee Mueller