Streamside Rearing Facility Helps Restore Lake Sturgeon

Project Summary: The lake sturgeon may be able to return to the Great Lakes in greater numbers thanks to this sturgeon rearing facility that has introduced more than 7,400 of the native fish back to the Lakes.

Project Name: Lake Sturgeon Imprinting Project

Location: Newburg, Wisconsin

Description: Around 1800, sturgeons were abundant in the Great Lakes and used the Milwaukee River as a spawning ground. By 1850 a dam was put into the Milwaukee, about 5 miles from Lake Michigan, and this prevented adult sturgeon from making it

Lake Sturgeon in the Streamside Rearing Facility at four months old. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Lake Sturgeon in the Streamside Rearing Facility at four months old. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

upstream to their spawning grounds. For the last 150 years, the spawning success of the lake sturgeon has been on the decline as their upstream spawning habitats, in places like the Milwaukee River, have been decimated. These fish spawn in small rivers or estuaries and imprint on the place they were born, returning to spawn in the same location at reproductive maturity. The Milwaukee River lake sturgeon streamside rearing facility uses this biological signal to help maximize the probability lake sturgeon will return to successfully spawn. The facility, operated by both the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Riveredge Nature Center, provides a safe space adjacent to their natural environment and uses river water for the incubators. The hope is that the sturgeon will imprint on the natural space and return to spawn. The main goal of this project is to support lake sturgeon populations so they may once more flourish naturally.

Approximate Cost of the Project: $200,000

Resource Challenges Addressed: Lake sturgeon blocked from accessing their spawning habitat in the Milwaukee River, low population levels of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes

Tribal elders blessing the release of lake sturgeon into the Milwaukee River in 2007. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Menominee tribal elders blessing the release of lake sturgeon into the Milwaukee River in 2007. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Key Partners (Public and Private): Great Lakes Fisheries Trust, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Riveredge Nature Center volunteers, University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, and U.S. Geological Survey

Types of Jobs Created: Fish biologists, construction workers, and general laborers

Results and Accomplishments: Since 2003, the Milwaukee River lake sturgeon streamside rearing facility has been operating to help the population of lake sturgeon regain strength in the Great Lakes. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has stocked 7,400 sturgeons into the Great Lakes population through the Milwaukee River program. Since sturgeons take between 10 years and 20 years to reach maturity, the success of the project is just starting to be assessed, but researchers have begun spotting tagged sturgeon in the Milwaukee River.

Website: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/lakemichigan/LakeSturgeon.html

Originally Published: August 30, 2013

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