Projects Help Sturgeon Thrive in Great Lakes Region

Juvenile lake sturgeon (photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
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By Elizabeth Miller 

\The U-S Fish and Wildlife Service awarded 1.5 million dollars this week to 8 research and restoration projects across the Great Lakes.  The federal funding comes from the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act.  3 of the projects have to do with lake sturgeon, the ancient and iconic fish species native to the region.

“Iconic species” returning to the Great Lakes

The lake sturgeon can live over 100 years, weigh over 200 pounds, and can grow up to 8 feet long.  Lake Erie’s sturgeon population disappeared at the turn of the 20th century due to overharvesting.  Commercial fishermen would use dry sturgeon to fuel their boats or sell their eggs for caviar.  Now, the Toledo Zoo’s Kent Bekker says they have the funds necessary to create a facility on the banks of northwest Ohio’s Maumee River.  “Hopefully we can use Maumee River water to rear eggs and young lake sturgeon for reintroduction into the Maumee River,” said Bekker.

The sturgeon eggs will come from an area in the Great Lakes basin with a thriving sturgeon population, the St. Clair/Detroit River system in Michigan.  Jessica Sherman, a University of Toledo PhD candidate who studied the Maumee River as a habitat for the sturgeon, says she’s excited for the fish to return.  “Because they’ve been gone, a lot of people don’t know about them,” said Sherman.

Two projects from the University of Wisconsin received money, too.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Justin Chiotti says 1 will benefit the Menominee River, which flows into Green Bay and then Lake Michigan.  “There’s a hydroelectric facility on the Menominee River,” said Chiotti.  “They’re actually carrying fish from below the dam and putting them upstream of the dam so the lake sturgeon can go up there, where there is sufficient habitat to spawn.”

The other Wisconsin project involves the St. Louis River.  Chiotti says that if the projects are successful, it’s a good sign for the Great Lakes.

“Lake sturgeon are an indicator of ecosystem health,” said Chiotti.

Ohio, Michigan wetlands receive restoration funding

Michigan’s St. John’s Marsh and Ohio’s Toussaint Wildlife Area are both in poor shape.  Russ Terry, a regional biologist from Ducks Unlimited, says his organization chose the two spots because both areas are extremely valuable to waterfowl, especially in the spring.

Toussaint, a coastal wetland, was owned and managed by a private duck hunting club before the Ohio Division of Wildlife took over.  According to Terry, the club segmented the one wetland into several smaller wetlands, disconnecting the wetland from the river.  “There’s no opportunity for fish to come into and out of the wetlands,” said Terry. 

With phase one of Ducks Unlimited’s regional project, Terry and Director of Communications Chris Sebastian say the plan is to remove interior levies that stretch for more than a mile of the area.  They’ll also install a “water control structure” to reconnect the wetland area with the Toussaint River.

St. John’s Marsh is a different situation, says Terry.  Phragmite, an invasive plant, has taken over.  Terry says these two wetlands are representative of the Great Lakes region.

“Some places in the Great Lakes have lost 90% of their wetlands,” said Terry.

Terry and Sebastian say the total price for the project is more than 3 million.  With the $559,177 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a recent $600,000 from NOAA (for the Ohio project), they’ve made quite a dent – but still have a long way to go. 

Click here for more information on the projects.

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