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Lake Sturgeon Management

Lake sturgeon

Lake Sturgeon Management

As one of the oldest species in the Great Lakes, the lake sturgeon holds a unique position in Michigan's fisheries research and management.

Attention to lake sturgeon increased in 1997 when Fisheries Division completed the first iteration of the statewide rehabilitation strategy for lake sturgeon.

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Streamside rearing

Together with numerous partners, the DNR uses streamside rearing to increase Michigan's lake sturgeon population. Streamside rearing allows young sturgeon to "imprint" to the river water, increasing the chances they return to the target river as mature adults.

Four streamside rearing facilities where DNR staff are assigned:

  • Black River (Cheboygan County)
  • Cedar River (Menominee County)
  • Kalamazoo River (Van Buren County)
  • Ontonagon River (Ontonagon County) 

One streamside rearing facility operated by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians:

  • Manistee River (Manistee County)

Two streamside rearing facilities operated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources include:

  • Kewaunee River
  • Milwaukee River


Lake sturgeon rehabilitation efforts in Black Lake over the last two decades have been a successful collaborative effort between the Michigan DNR, Sturgeon for Tomorrow, tribal agencies, Michigan State University and Tower-Kleber Limited Partnership. This population has increased in the past 20 years due to rearing and stocking efforts, research, and protection of spawning adults, and this trend is expected to continue.

Black Lake sturgeon facility

In 2002, MSU and the Michigan DNR Fisheries Division began a collaborative partnership to focus on lake sturgeon at Black Lake in Cheboygan County. At the Black Lake sturgeon facility, research has been a major focus resulting in significant advancements in understanding lake sturgeon ecology and impediments to natural recruitment and population growth. Lake sturgeon research and outreach activities center around a stream-side research and hatchery facility. 

Research has largely focused on identification of factors that contribute to low levels of natural recruitment in the Black Lake population, including sources and levels of mortality during early life (egg, larval) stages. Long term monitoring of spawning adults and resulting long-term capture-mark-recapture data led to the development of a novel method of population estimation which is used to annually determine adult population size for males and females. The annual abundance estimates are critical for setting safe harvest quotas for the population in Black Lake. Telemetry studies documented movements of juvenile lake sturgeon in reservoirs on the Black River and rates of passage and survival of lake sturgeon of different ages through the hydroelectric operations on the river. Additional research has focused on chemical queues and physiological mechanisms associated with natal imprinting and on lake sturgeon pathogens. In addition to Black Lake university/DNR station staff, researchers and managers from other universities and state, federal, and tribal agencies have worked on various initiatives to advance knowledge of lake sturgeon biology and to promote lake sturgeon to the general public. 

Community outreach and engagement activities at Black Lake have been undertaken by Michigan State University and DNR staff. Staff are involved in facility and stream-side tours and public presentations. Staff have developed a website ( that includes STEM K-12 learning activities for teachers. MSU and DNR staff have worked with collaborators from Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University extension to develop a ‘Citizen Science’ e-learning program that focuses on predator-prey dynamics.  The Black Lake facility provides juvenile sturgeon for use in a ‘Sturgeon in the Classroom’ K-12 STEM program. 

Hatchery production activities have been underway since 2003 to supplement low levels of natural recruitment in the Cheboygan River lakes.  There have been 33,416 juvenile lake sturgeon stocked into the Cheboygan River drainage.  More recently, the Black Lake facility has stocked 500 fish annually into 4 tributaries of the Saginaw River system. Research has led to the development of ‘best’ hatchery practices to guide production and release activities of federal, state, and tribal natural resources agencies across the Great Lakes. 


Kalamazoo River streamside facility

Lake sturgeon research and management on the Kalamazoo River is a collaborative effort involving Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and Grand Valley State University. Since 2011, a streamside rearing facility has been operated at New Richmond Bridge County Park. Egg mats are used to collect fertilized lake sturgeon eggs in the Kalamazoo River downstream of the Calkins (Lake Allegan) Dam in the spring. The eggs are brought into the streamside rearing facility, and the young sturgeon typically remain in the facility until late summer. Release celebrations organized by the Gun Lake Tribe have attracted hundreds of visitors, providing great outreach and education opportunities. A total of 1,591 lake sturgeon have been stocked into the Kalamazoo River since the streamside rearing facility was established.

Sturgeon research on the Kalamazoo River has involved netting of adult sturgeon in Kalamazoo Lake in early spring prior to spawning, drift net sampling for larval sturgeon, and habitat mapping. A sturgeon spawning riffle was constructed in the river in 2016. Lake sturgeon use of the spawning riffle was documented for the first time in 2019 when eggs were collected on egg mats deployed within the riffle.


Twenty years of lake sturgeon research and management

Cheboygan County has been the home of lake sturgeon management, hatchery production, research and outreach activities for several decades. In recognition of the past 20 years of restoration efforts, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan State University hosted an event on May 7, 2022 at the Black River spawning site and hatchery for stakeholders and partners to recognize their work and contributions. 

Event participants toured the hatchery and observed data collection from spawning lake sturgeon. Other activities recognized contributions of agency, academic, industry and citizen partners who have made sustained activities possible.

Watch highlights from the 20th anniversary celebration