By Thea Hassan:
Anglers beware! The endangered Lake Sturgeon may be making a come back in the Great Lakes, and the Buffalo Harbor is the place to be.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation issued an advisory in early May that warns anglers to watch out for sturgeon. The bottom feeding fish reproduce during May and June, bringing them into the shallower shores and rapids to spawn.
The DEC stated they received numerous reports last year of Lake Sturgeon being caught by anglers in the Buffalo Harbor. Although the exact population size is unclear, the population seems to be increasing, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is currently investigating sturgeon population size.
Sturgeon once had significant populations in the Great Lakes, but habitat loss, overfishing, and loss of water quality have contributed to their decline. Sturgeon first appeared 156 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, according to the DEC. These ancient fish survived a few ice ages, but they were no match for fishing boats!
“Historically, they were harvested until they almost disappeared,” said Betsy Trometer of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Apparently, their eggs make excellent caviar and their skin is quite tasty smoked. But don’t get any smart ideas – it is illegal to catch or possess sturgeon due to their status as a threatened species.
The Lake Sturgeon is a massive fish. It can grow up to seven feet long, and weigh up to 300 pounds. Female sturgeon live up to 150 years, and are late bloomers, not reaching sexual maturation until they are between 14 and 23 years old. That’s older than humans!
The recovery of the monster fish could be an indication of things improving in the Niagara River. The fish is important in Native American culture, and older Great Lakes residents may remember them at a bounding population, according to Trometer.
“Seeing them, spawning again, seeing them recover, it’s not only a good sign for the environment, but also culturally, too,” said Trometer.
If anglers accidentally snag a sturgeon, the DEC advises to:
• Avoid bringing the fish into the boat if possible.
• Use pliers to remove the hook. Sturgeon are almost always hooked in the mouth.
• Always support the fish horizontally. Do not hold sturgeon in a vertical position by their head, gills, or tails, even for taking pictures.
• Never touch their eyes or gills.
• Minimize their time out of the water.
• Use caution when handling the fish as they have sharp scaly plates called scutes on their backs. Use gloves or a damp towel to avoid injury.
Image Caption: Lake Sturgeon, image credit: Eric Engbretson/ US Fish and Wildlife Service