Streamside Rearing Facility

Helps Restore Lake Sturgeon

The lake sturgeon may be able to return to the Great Lakes in greater numbers thanks to this sturgeon rearing facility that has introduced more than 7,400 of the native fish back to the Lakes.

Description

Around 1800, sturgeons were abundant in the Great Lakes and used the Milwaukee River as a spawning ground. By 1850 a dam was put into the Milwaukee, about 5 miles from Lake Michigan, and this prevented adult sturgeon from making it upstream to their spawning grounds. For the last 150 years, the spawning success of the lake sturgeon has been on the decline as their upstream spawning habitats, in places like the Milwaukee River, have been decimated. These fish spawn in small rivers or estuaries and imprint on the place they were born, returning to spawn in the same location at reproductive maturity. The Milwaukee River lake sturgeon streamside rearing facility uses this biological signal to help maximize the probability lake sturgeon will return to successfully spawn. The facility, operated by both the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Riveredge Nature Center, provides a safe space adjacent to their natural environment and uses river water for the incubators. The hope is that the sturgeon will imprint on the natural space and return to spawn. The main goal of this project is to support lake sturgeon populations so they may once more flourish naturally.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Natural habitat blocked
  • Low population levels for a native species

LAKE STURGEON IMPRINTING PROJECT

Baby sturgeon at a fish rearing facility

Lake Sturgeon in the Streamside Rearing Facility at four months old. Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Results and Accomplishments

Since 2003, the Milwaukee River lake sturgeon streamside rearing facility has been operating to help the population of lake sturgeon regain strength in the Great Lakes. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has stocked 7,400 sturgeons into the Great Lakes population through the Milwaukee River program. Since sturgeons take between 10 years and 20 years to reach maturity, the success of the project is just starting to be assessed, but researchers have begun spotting tagged sturgeon in the Milwaukee River.