Streamside hatchery

boosts sturgeon population

The lake sturgeon population is being nursed back to health in a Michigan river after decades of decline. An innovative fish-rearing facility allowed biologists to release 100 sturgeons in the Kalamazoo River in 2011.

Description

Lake sturgeon are massive, prehistoric creatures whose ancestors roamed Earth’s waters when dinosaurs were the planet’s dominant species. The fish, which can reach eight feet long and weigh nearly 200 pounds, can live more than 50 years. Lake sturgeon were abundant in the Great Lakes and tributaries until the early 1990s, when overfishing reduced populations by more than 90 percent. Fewer than 100 sturgeons were in the Kalamazoo River when volunteers and government officials launched a program to harvest the fish’s eggs and raise new generations of the massive creature. Sturgeon eggs collected from the Kalamazoo River were raised in a streamside fish-rearing facility. Raising the fish in water taken from the river allowed sturgeon to imprint on that particular river, where they will eventually return to spawn. The Kalamazoo River project, one of several such efforts in the Great Lakes, could increase the sturgeon population throughout the lakes.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Decline of sturgeon habitat
  • Overfishing

KALAMAZOO STREAMSIDE STURGEON REARING

People releasing sturgeon

Releasing sturgeon, like the ones pictured here, in a stream near where they were raised in a facility for sturgeon. Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Results and Accomplishments

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 released 100 small sturgeons in the Kalamazoo River. More sturgeon raised in the streamside fish-rearing facility will be released every year. Because female lake sturgeon don’t reproduce until they are 18-20 years old, scientists won’t know how for years well the fish-rearing program worked. They already know that it is possible to raise the fish with human assistance, an achievement that is expected to stave off the elimination of sturgeon from the Great Lakes.