State-Led Lake Sturgeon Recovery Efforts Show Signs of Success
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is asking anglers to avoid spawning lake sturgeon in New York's Great Lakes waters, Great Lakes connecting channels, and tributaries of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, Finger Lakes, and Oneida Lake. Typically during this time of year, DEC receives multiple reports of lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) caught by anglers fishing for walleye and other species.
Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "DEC and our partners are engaged in ongoing efforts to restore lake sturgeon to New York's waters. Encounters between anglers and lake sturgeon are becoming increasingly common and we ask anglers to help protect these impressive fish during this critical period in their recovery."
Lake sturgeon are listed as a threatened species in New York. Therefore, there is no open fishing season and possession is prohibited. Anglers are likely to encounter sturgeon during the spring when the fish gather to spawn on clean gravel or cobble shoals and in stream rapids. Sturgeon spawn in New York State in May and June when water temperatures reach 55 to 64°F. Anglers should not intentionally target these protected fish. If an angler catches a sturgeon, they should fish another area or change fishing gear to avoid catching another. Anglers who unintentionally hook one should follow these practices to ensure the fish are returned to the water unharmed:
- Avoid bringing the fish into the boat if possible;
- Use pliers to remove the hook. Sturgeon are almost always hooked in the mouth;
- Always support the fish horizontally. Do not hold sturgeon in a vertical position by their head, gills, or tails;
- Never touch their eyes or gills; and
- Minimize their time out of the water and return the fish to the water immediately once freed from fishing gear.
Stocking is a key strategy in lake sturgeon recovery. DEC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have periodically stocked young sturgeon into various waters of New York's Great Lakes drainage since 1995. Adult lake sturgeon are captured in the St. Lawrence River and their fertilized eggs are reared at DEC's Oneida Hatchery and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Genoa National Fish Hatchery. These fish are raised to a size of about six inches before stocking, which dramatically increases their chances of survival in the wild. Lake sturgeon are New York's largest freshwater fish and can grow up to seven feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds.
"Lake sturgeon stocked in the 1990s are just beginning to contribute to the natural reproduction," said Lisa Holst, Rare Fish Unit Leader for DEC. "Restoration of rare species takes time, but due to good science, patience and partnerships these great fish are making a comeback."
In the wild, male lake sturgeon take eight to 12 years to mature, and females take 14 to as many as 33 years. In 2016, field biologists from DEC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured lake sturgeon of wild origin from five different year classes from the Oswegatchie River. In addition, research biologists from Cornell's Biological Field Station on Oneida Lake captured three wild lake sturgeon from two different year classes in 2016. They had previously captured a single wild sturgeon in 2013. "All of these captures indicate to us we are on the right track," said Ms. Holst.
An update to the lake sturgeon recovery plan is projected to be finalized in late 2017.
For more information on lake sturgeon, visit DEC's website, the U.S. Fish and wildlife site at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/sturgeon/ (leaves DEC's website) or contact DEC's Rare Fish Unit Leader, Lisa Holst at (518) 402-8897.