Streamside hatchery boosts sturgeon population

Project Summary: The lake sturgeon population is being nursed back to health in a Michigan river after decades of decline. An innovative fish-rearing facility allowed biologists to release 100 sturgeons in the Kalamazoo River in 2011.

Project name: Kalamazoo River Streamside Sturgeon Rearing Unit.

Location: Fennville, Mi.

Sturgeon eggs captured in the Kalamazoo River were raised in this streamside fish-rearing facility. The fish were raised in water pulled from the river, which will allow them to imprint on the Kalamazoo River.

Description: Lake sturgeon are massive, prehistoric creatures whose ancestors roamed Earth’s waters when dinosaurs were the planet’s dominant species. The fish, which can reach eight feet long and weigh nearly 200 pounds, can live more than 50 years. Lake sturgeon were abundant in the Great Lakes and tributaries until the early 1990s, when overfishing reduced populations by more than 90 percent. Fewer than 100 sturgeons were in the Kalamazoo River when volunteers and government officials launched a program to harvest the fish’s eggs and raise new generations of the massive creature. Sturgeon eggs collected from the Kalamazoo River were raised in a streamside fish-rearing facility. Raising the fish in water taken from the river allowed sturgeon to imprint on that particular river, where they will eventually return to spawn. The Kalamazoo River project, one of several such efforts in the Great Lakes, could increase the sturgeon population throughout the lakes.

Biologists in 2011 released 100 baby lake sturgeons into the Kalamazoo River. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photos)

Approximate cost of project: $220,000, which came from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Resource challenges addressed: Decline of lake sturgeon population, loss of fisheries habitat and overfishing in the 20th century that nearly eliminated the species from Great Lakes waters.

Key partners (public and private): Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kalamazoo Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow and the Match-e-be-Nash-She-Wish Band of the Pottawatomi Indians of the Gun Lake Tribe.

Types of jobs created: Biologists, plumbers, electricians and general laborers.

Results and accomplishments: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 released 100 small sturgeons in the Kalamazoo River. More sturgeon raised in the streamside fish-rearing facility will be released every year. Because female lake sturgeon don’t reproduce until they are 18-20 years old, scientists won’t know how for years well the fish-rearing program worked. They already know that it is possible to raise the fish with human assistance, an achievement that is expected to stave off the elimination of sturgeon from the Great Lakes.

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Originally Published: March 20, 2012