During a recent conversation with watershed planner Margaret Wooster, she told me about an intriguing exhibit at Burchfield-Penney’s The Project Space. The exhibit is by Anna Scime, and features films pertaining to one of the most fascinating fish found in WNY – the sturgeon, which can live up to 150 years.
The story of the sturgeon is as incredible as the fish itself. They were once killed as they were caught, because they would destroy fishing nets and were considered a nuisance. Then, when it was discovered that their eggs could be collected and shipped to Europe as caviar, they were highly sought after. According to the site Great Lakes Now, “… the largest year ever was 1885, with 8.6 million pounds harvested, of which 5.2 million pounds came from Lake Erie.”
Due to overfishing and loss of habitat, the sturgeon all but died out. But that sad story has begun to rewrite itself, as the monster fish has been making a comeback and can now be found regionally at the Outer Harbor and lower Niagara River.
The project examines history, art, culture, and language through an ecological lens pointed at a single species, and zooms outward from there.
“[As for Scime’s project] it’s a great exhibit of many of her films of this incredible fish in the Outer Harbor and lower Niagara River–one of the many treasures that makes our Lake Erie coast unique. If you go before mid-October you’ll see live baby sturgeon, tiny and colorful in their big tank–and growing every day.” – Margaret Wooster
The Lake Sturgeons’ Guide for Surviving the Anthropocene exhibit – a series of short video essays and a multimedia installation – is the culmination of nine years of research and fieldwork, via Scime’s collaborations with scientists working in biology, geology and ecology.
From the Burchfield Penney’s website, pertaining to the exhibit:
While aquatic and terrestrial megafauna the world over are in dire straits, sturgeon are perhaps the most endangered species group on the planet. At present all 27 species of sturgeon and paddlefishes (Order Acipenseriformes) are found on the IUCN Red List, the majority being classified as Critically Endangered, with four species possibly extinct. Lake Sturgeon are one of two sturgeon species whose numbers are estimated to be increasing after long term efforts by scientists and conservationists throughout the United States, Canada and neighboring Indigenous Nations. These experiments in rewilding are marked by rigorous design, data collection and hypothesis testing, but only time will tell if these efforts have truly been successful, and whether or not these living fossils that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs will survive us. Local sturgeon populations in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are two of the few wild populations left in the U.S. This exhibition explores their profound and distinct effects on the nature and functioning of the ecosystems that they are a part of.
^Sturgeons in the Museum Live Stream
This project is generously supported by the Global Warming Art Project grant, Ben Perrone and the Environmental Maze project donors, and administered by the Art Services Initiative of Western New York.
Images courtesy the artist and Burchfield Penney Art Center