LAKE STURGEON STILL SURPRISING LAKE ERIE EXPERTS |
21 fish sighted in the past year
SANDUSKY, OH - Recent sightings of juvenile Lake Erie sturgeon hold
promise for the endangered species, according to state wildlife biologists
with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
Due to overfishing in the mid-1800s, sightings of Lake Erie sturgeon
declined and the fish was nearly lost from the Great Lakes. Yet recent
observations and catches of this prehistoric-looking fish have wildlife
biologists hoping for a reversal in the lake sturgeons diminished presence
in Lake Erie.
"Last October, a perch angler caught an especially noteworthy
sturgeon a couple of miles north of the Portage River mouth in western Lake
Erie," said David Davies, fisheries biologist with the ODNR Division of
Wildlife. "This 7-inch fish - spawned last spring - in addition to a number
of recent catches of juvenile sturgeon three to six years old (measuring 14
to 24 inches), leads us to believe that sturgeon are reproducing."
Lake sturgeon, Ohio's largest fish species, can exceed more than 6
feet in length and weigh more than 200 pounds. They have no scales, but
instead have bony plates along the back, sides and belly. They have a
distinctive shark-like tail, long, pointed snout, and four long barbels
(used to locate prey) in front of a suction-like mouth. The upper body
ranges from olive to gray, graduating to a yellow or milky white belly.
ODNR cooperates in an interagency tagging study to collect
information on sturgeon populations in Lake Erie and connecting waterways in
the lower Great Lakes. Since 1995, more than 4,000 sturgeon have been
tagged. Recaptures of these highly migratory fish will help biologists learn
more about the population, migration movements and possible spawning
One of the sturgeon reported in Ohio waters this year was the
recapture of a fish tagged from a current monitoring project in the Lake St.
Clair and Detroit River region; the first recapture outside the Lake St.
Clair/Detroit River system.
"We are very optimistic about the comeback of Lake Erie's sturgeon
and hope to someday find evidence of spawning grounds, including spawning in
Ohio streams," Davies said. "A Cleveland angler caught a 5 1/2-foot sturgeon
on the Cuyahoga River last September. Two other adult sturgeon caught in the
Maumee River last year could be an indication that sturgeon are returning to
This year, 21 sturgeon were reported in Ohio waters of Lake Erie.
Four were surprise catches by ice fishermen, nine others were caught by
anglers on the open lake, and another was reported by a recreational boater.
Five sturgeon were caught and released from commercial fishing nets. Two
observations were from shoreline residents.
Lake sturgeon provided a lucrative commercial fishery across the
Great Lakes in the mid-1800s as society acquired a taste for caviar and
smoked sturgeon. Lake Erie historically had the largest sturgeon production
of all the Great Lakes. By the early 1900s, sturgeon populations were much
Other contributing factors in the sturgeon decline were pollution
and the damming of rivers, preventing sturgeon from returning to spawning
grounds. A slow maturity rate was also a factor as female sturgeon normally
do not spawn until 20 years of age, and only spawn every four to seven
years. Consequently, young fish could not quickly replace the adults lost to
Sturgeon are a state endangered fish. Anyone who catches a lake
sturgeon should release it back into the water immediately and report it to
the ODNR Division of Wildlife at 419-625-8062 or 1-800-WILDLIFE. Helpful
information would include the date and place of the observation, length of
the fish, any tag information, and a photograph if possible.