The lake sturgeon is an odd fish. It grows fast but reaches sexual maturity late. The female matures between ages 13 and 33; the male, between 12 and 20. And the females may spawn as infrequently as every nine years. Lake sturgeon exist in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, and Lake Champlain. They are the largest freshwater fish in New York State, living for more than 50 years and reaching lengths of seven feet. They’re also in trouble. The lake sturgeon has been on the state’s list of threatened species since 1983. The state has revised its plan to protect them and is seeking public comment. A news release from the state Department of Environmental Conservation follows.
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the release of a Draft Lake Sturgeon Recovery Plan for New York State that will help guide the agency and its partners in recovery efforts of this iconic, prehistoric-looking creature dubbed “The King of Fishes.”
“Lake Sturgeon have been listed as a Threatened Species in New York since 1983, and this plan will provide a clear blueprint for DEC and its partners to achieve recovery of this ancient fish within New York,” Commissioner Seggos said. “The recovery plan is the culmination of work by dedicated DEC staff and our partners at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Cornell University, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, and others since recovery activities began in 1992.”
DEC is inviting the public to comment on the plan, last updated in 2005. Since then, new guidance that defines viable spawning populations in the Great Lakes has been published. The New York recovery plan partitions the historic range of lake sturgeon into seven Management Units based on distribution of known sturgeon populations, movement within and among populations, and the genetic structure of lake sturgeon populations across the state.
The goals of this recovery plan are to ensure perpetuation of the species in the State, restore self-sustaining populations, and remove the species from the Threatened Species list in New York. To achieve that goal, recovery metrics are defined that must be achieved in six of the seven geographically defined Management Units to support removing lake sturgeon from the list of threatened species. At a minimum, 750 sexually mature fish must be present in each Management Unit, coupled with three-year classes of wild reproduction in a five-year period, to consider that unit recovered.
DEC seeks to gather enough evidence of recovery of lake sturgeon to initiate its removal from the list of Threatened Species in New York by 2024.
The plan may be accessed via DEC’s website: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/111557.html.
DEC will accept public comments on the draft plan until Nov. 25, 2017. To comment on the plan, send an email with the subject line “Lake Sturgeon” to firstname.lastname@example.org or send written comments via U.S. Mail to:
Rare Fish Unit Leader
NYSDEC Bureau of Fisheries
Albany, NY 12233-4753
Lake sturgeon were once abundant in New York, but commercial fishing, dam building and habitat loss decimated populations. Today they can still be found in Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, Grasse River, Oswegatchie River, and Black Lake, as well as Lake Champlain, Cayuga Lake, Oneida Lake, Seneca River, and Cayuga Canal. While sturgeon numbers have improved, their populations remain low compared to historical levels in New York and the rest of the Great Lakes states. It is estimated that fishing removed 80-percent of the sturgeon from Lake Erie by 1900. The largest and longest-lived of any of the freshwater fishes, sturgeon were once prized for their meat and caviar.
Lake Sturgeon are native to the Mississippi River Basin, Great Lakes Basin, and Hudson Bay region of North America. They are the largest fish native to the Great Lakes, growing up to seven or more feet in length and achieving weights of up to 300 pounds. A specimen that was 7 feet 4 inches long and weighed 240 pounds was found languishing in Lake Erie in 1998. Lake sturgeon from New York’s inland waters are smaller on average and may grow to as much 3 to 5 feet in length and about 80 pounds as adults. Male sturgeon become sexually mature between 8 and 12 years of age and may live as long as 55 years. Females become sexually mature between 14 and 33 years of age and live as long as 80 to 150 years. Their slow rate of maturity and reproduction made them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
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