Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)

Life History & Michigan History

It has been called a relic from the age of dinosaurs. A member of the cartilagenous (non-bony) fishes, the lake sturgeon can indeed be considered the elder statesman of Michigan's fish species. It is difficult to confuse the lake sturgeon with any other Michigan species. The sturgeon has no scales but is covered with five rows of bone like plates on its back, sides, and stomach.

Sturgeon are the longest lived of Michigan's fish species and can attain ages of up to 100 years old. They can grow to over 8 feet in length and weigh up to 800 pounds. Male lake sturgeon reach sexual readiness at 15-20 years of age, and then spawn only every other year. Once females mature at about 20-25 years of age, they spawn on average every four years. These characteristics have prevented the recovery of the lake sturgeon, which has been designated as a threatened species.

Sturgeon prefer large shallow lakes and rivers and the Great Lakes shorelines. They feed by using their protruding mouth to suction up bottom dwelling organisms like crayfish and other crustaceans as well as insect larvae.

Sturgeon have a low reproductive rate and may not begin to spawn until they are 15 to 25 years old. For unknown reasons after entering the spawning stream, sturgeon can be seen porpoising (jumping in the air). It must be impressive to see a 200 to 300 pound fish doing a belly flop!

The lake sturgeon was once located throughout the Great Lakes system, but over harvest by European settlers, destruction of food sources, lampreys and dam construction on spawning rivers have all had an impact on their survival. They are currently listed as a state threatened species. Within the United States, Michigan and Wisconsin hold the last major populations of these fish.

The population of lake sturgeon appears to be stable. Conservation of this ancient species will be dependent on strict control of harvests, protection of spawning rivers and fish during spawning periods. Because of the sturgeons restricted numbers and behavior, few people will ever have the opportunity to see a sturgeon, but sometimes just knowing that species like this still exists is reason enough to be concerned about its future.

Sturgeon Patrol

Each year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources joins forces with local citizens in Cheboygan County to protect spawning lake sturgeon in the upper Black River. This section of the Black River has long been a problem spot for the illegal taking of lake sturgeon during spring spawning. But with the help of `Sturgeon Watch' volunteers, key areas can be monitored 24 hours a day.

Each spring lake sturgeon come to spawn in the clean, upstream riffles of the upper Black River. In these shallow waters, they are very vulnerable to illegal harvest. During April and May the Black River is closed to fishing between Kleber Dam and Red Bridge.

Local citizens, volunteers from the Michigan National Guard, and members of the local chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow use cell phones to report suspicious activity to the DNR Report All Poaching hotline. The information is then immediately forwarded to conservation officers patrolling the area.

In the past, rewards of up to $1,000 have been offered by Sturgeon for Tomorrow and the RAP program for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person or persons illegally taking lake sturgeon.

Sturgeon Angling Information

A new version of the sturgeon tag has been developed which will be available on January 4, 2010. NOTE: The tag is required for the Black Lake season and anglers who have the earlier version of this tag do not need to get another tag to participate in the February season. All 2009 sturgeon tags will be honored. The lake sturgeon tag is non-transferable and must be obtained at a license vendor prior to all lake sturgeon fishing, including catch-and-immediate-release and the Black Lake season in February. There is no cost for the lake sturgeon tag and the tag is not a substitute for a fishing license. All anglers must have at least a valid restricted fishing license to use the lake sturgeon tag and anglers need to possess this tag when targeting lake sturgeon. Tags are valid for one angling season and expire on March 31, 2010. On waters where harvest of lake sturgeon is allowed as specifically identified below, an angler shall not harvest more than one (1) lake sturgeon per year. Lake sturgeon fishing season information can be found on page 11 (Table 4 Lake Sturgeon) of the Fishing Guide.  Read more....



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