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.

Lake Sturgeon

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.