Acipenser fulvescens - Rafinesque, 1817
Lake Sturgeon
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Acipenser fulvescens Rafinesque, 1817 (TSN 161071)
French Common Names: esturgeon jaune
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.104232
Element Code: AFCAA01020
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Fishes - Bony Fishes - Other Bony Fishes
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Actinopterygii Acipenseriformes Acipenseridae Acipenser
Genus Size: C - Small genus (6-20 species)
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 20. 183 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B91ROB01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Acipenser fulvescens
Taxonomic Comments: Distinctive ESUs likely do not exist within this species (see Starnes 1995).

Gene sequencing data of Birstein and DeSalle (1998) indicate that there are least three main clades within Acipenser: A. sturio-A. oxyrinchus, A. schrenckii-A. transmontanus, and all Ponto-Caspian species plus A. dabrysnus and A. brevirostrum.

Krieger et al. (2000) examined phylogenetic relationships of North American sturgeons based on mtDNA sequences and found that (1) nucleotide sequences for all four examined genes for the three Scaphirhynchus species were identical; (2) the two Acipenser oxyrinchus subspecies were very similar in sequence; (3) A. transmontanus and A. medirostris were sister taxa, as were A. fulvescens and A. brevirostrum (in contrast to Birstein and DeSalle 1998).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G3G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 05Feb2008
Global Status Last Changed: 26Nov2001
Rounded Global Status: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Historically abundant and widespread in rivers and lakes from southern Canada to the southeastern U.S.; now much reduced in distribution and abundance as a result of historical overfishing, dams, and water pollution; many populations continue to be negatively affected by physical barriers to migration, loss and degradation of spawning and nursery areas, and (in some areas) fishing pressures or illegal harvest, but major declines have largely ceased, and populations have stabilized (at relatively low abundance levels) or increased in some areas, in part as a result of substantial ongoing recovery efforts.
Nation: United States
National Status: N3N4 (26Nov2001)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N3 (28Dec2017)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (S1), Arkansas (S2), Georgia (S3), Illinois (S2), Indiana (S1), Iowa (S1), Kansas (SH), Kentucky (S1), Michigan (S2), Minnesota (S3), Missouri (S1), Nebraska (S1), New York (S2S3), North Carolina (SX), North Dakota (SX), Ohio (S1), Pennsylvania (S1), Tennessee (S1), Vermont (S1), West Virginia (SX), Wisconsin (S3)
Canada Alberta (SU), Manitoba (S2), Ontario (S3), Quebec (S3), Saskatchewan (S2)

Other Statuses

Implied Status under the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC):E,T,SC
Comments on COSEWIC: Designated Not at Risk in April 1986. The original designation was de-activated in May 2005 to allow designation of separate populations. The Southern Hudson Bay - James Bay populations (pop. 2) are designated Special Concern; the Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence River populations (pop. 3) are designated Threatened; and the Western Hudson Bay populations (pop. 8) and the Saskatchewan - Nelson River populations (pop. 12) are designated Endangered.
IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix II
American Fisheries Society Status: Vulnerable (01Aug2008)

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 200,000 to >2,500,000 square km (about 80,000 to >1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Large range in North America includes the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes basin from Quebec to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois; Lake Champlain (Vermont and New York); Hudson Bay, James Bay, and Saskatchewan River basins from Quebec to Alberta; and Mississippi River basin from Minnesota and Wisconsin southward to northern Alabama and rarely Arkansas and northern Louisiana, including the Missouri River upstream rarely or formerly as far as southern South Dakota, the Ohio River basin upstream (formerly) to West Virginia, and the Tennessee River as far upstream (at least formerly) to northern Alabama and eastern Tennessee (Lee et al. 1980, Baker 1980, Becker 1983, Smith 1985, Houston 1987, Brousseau 1987, Robison and Buchanan 1988, Page and Burr 1991, Etnier and Starnes 1993, Mettee et al. 1996, Ferguson and Duckworth 1997, Pflieger 1997, Boschung and Mayden 2004). Lake sturgeon also has been found in the Coosa River system, Mobile Bay drainage, Alabama and adjacent northwestern Georgia (Boschung and Mayden 2004). Lake sturgeon is relatively common in the northern portion of its range in Canada but is approaching extinction or is extirpated in the southern part of the range in the Missouri, Ohio, and middle Mississippi river drainages (Page and Burr 1991).

Number of Occurrences: 81 - 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Historically this species was very widespread and represented by many occurrences (subpopulations) (Auer 1994). Now there are fewer subpopulations, and they are much more geographically restricted (Auer 1994). Assuming that each major occupied river or lake that is not interrupted by a barrier represents a single subpopulation, the number of extant subpopulations exceeds 100.

Population Size: 10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but is much greater than 10,000 and may exceed 100,000. Some northern populations include relatively large numbers of individuals (Becker 1983, COSEWIC 2006, Environment Canada and U.S. EPA 2007),) whereas the species is now very rare in the southern portion of the historical range, particularly in the Mississippi River basin (Smith 1979, Cooper 1983, Robison and Buchanan 1988, Etnier and Starnes 1993, Boschung and Mayden 2004).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Unknown
Viability/Integrity Comments: The number of occurrences with good viability is unknown, but a substantial proportion appear not to have good viability.

Overall Threat Impact: Medium
Overall Threat Impact Comments: This species has been detrimentally affected by historical overexploitation (mostly in the late 1800s and early 1900s as markets for eggs [caviar] and smoked flesh developed) and habitat loss and degradation, such as caused by dams (block migrations; alter flows and water levels, which may strand adults or render habitat unsuitable for young), siltation of spawning habitat (resulting from land clearing, agriculture, and other human activities), stream channelization (sometimes destroying spawning habitat), pollution (e.g., toxins that negatively affect sturgeons or their food resources; paper mill effluents that cause oxygen depletion and sturgeon die-offs), and loss of large mussel beds (food resources) (Harkness and Dymond 1961, Harkness and Dymond 1961, Priegel and Wirth 1971, Trautman 1981, Becker 1983, Mongeau et al. 1983, Brousseau 1987, Hart 1987, Houston 1987, Mosindy 1987, Duckworth et al. 1992, LeHaye et al. 1992, Ferguson and Duckworth 1997, Pflieger 1997, Knights et al. 2002). In even the northern portion of the range where the species is doing relatively well in some areas, commercial overexploitation and habitat alteration, usually through hydroelectric dam construction and operation, have either singly or jointly reduced or extirpated some populations in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec (Ferguson and Duckworth 1997). During recent decades, major human uses of water have contributed to depletion of lake sturgeon habitat in the Saskatchewan River in Alberta (McLeod et al. 1999).

Sturgeon populations continue to be negatively affected by physical barriers to migration, loss and degradation of spawning and nursery areas, and (in some areas) fishing pressure (Rochard et al. 1990, Environmental Canada and U.S. EPA 2007). Existing threats in the Canadian portion of the range include overexploitation (mostly historical), direct and indirect effects of dams, poaching, chemical control of sea lamprey, invasive species, habitat degradation and contamination, and potentially genetic contamination through stocking from non-native populations or through accidental releases from hatcheries (COSEWIC 2006). In the Great Lakes, additional threats include zebra mussel colonization of spawning habitats and predation of eggs by round gobies (Hay-Chmielewski and Whelan 1997). With the collapse of the Caspian Sea sturgeon populations, black market demand for sturgeon caviar could put tremendous pressure on Great Lakes lake sturgeon populations (Environment Canada and U.S. EPA 2007). An additional concern for lake sturgeon in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario is the spread of Botulism Type E, which produced a die-off of lake sturgeon in Lake Erie in 2001 and 2002. Botulism may also have been the cause of similar mortalities observed in Lake Ontario in 2003 and in Green Bay of Lake Michigan (Environment Canada and U.S. EPA 2007). Illegal harvesting continues to threaten some lake sturgeon populations (Baker 1980, Dumont et al. 1987, COSEWIC 2006). In the Great Lakes (and many other areas), current low numbers or lack of fish (where extirpated) is a significant impediment to recovery in many spawning areas (Environmental Canada and U.S. EPA 2007).

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: Recently, with improved management, including several restoration and reintroduction programs, the decline has slowed in some areas and in other areas populations may have stabilized, but at a depressed population level (Environment Canada and U.S. EPA 2007). Abundance is increasing in the Great Lakes, where the overall trend is "improving" (Environment Canada and U.S. EPA 2007). In the United States, Michigan and Wisconsin have the largest remaining populations; Michigan populations were regarded as stable in the early 2000s (Michigan Department of Natural Resources). Trend in Canada varies among hydrographic units (see following); declines are continuing in most units (COSEWIC 2006). Trend may be relatively stable (at a low level) or possibly increasing in the Mississippi River basin.

COSEWIC (2006) divided the range in Canada into 8 units and separately assessed the status of each. Lake sturgeon was listed as Endangered in 5 units, Threatened in 1 unit, and Special Concern in 2 units. Together these comprise most of the current range of the species where it has not been reduced to extreme rarity (as in most of the Mississippi River basin), with the exception of some of the U.S. Great Lakes states. The following includes a brief summary of the status of each Canadian unit (based on COSEWIC 2006).

Western Hudson Bay populations: Endangered. Area of occupancy declining; few extant locations; population size probably in the low 1,000s, probably declining but poorly known; probably severely fragmented.

Saskatchewan River populations: Endangered. Four locations, declining; habitat area/quality declining; adult population size about 3,300, declining; severely fragmented; decline of more than 50 percent over three generations.

Nelson River populations: Endangered. Possibly fewer than 5 locations; habitat area/quality declining; fewer than 3,000 mature individuals, declining; severely fragmented.

Red-Assiniboine Rivers-Lake Winnipeg populations: Endangered. Declining extent of occurrence and area of occupancy; fewer than 5 locations, declining; very few mature individuals, declining in abundance; close to 100 percent decline over past three generations; severely fragmented; declining in number of populations.

Winnipeg River-English River populations: Endangered. Possibly 8 locations, declining; habitat area/quality declining; population size and trend unknown; severely fragmented; declining number of populations.

Lake of the Woods-Rainy River populations: Special Concern; 2+ locations, stable; habitat area/quality increasing following a decline; more than 50,000 adults and subadults, with increasing abundance; not severely fragmented; stable number of populations; severe decline with past heavy commercial exploitation, followed by steady recovery since 1970.

Southern Hudson Bay-James Bay populations: Special Concern. Stable or possibly stable extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, and number of locations; more than 10 extant locations; habitat area/quality possibly declining; unknown population size and trend; severely fragmented.

Great Lakes-Upper St. Lawrence populations: Threatened. Declining extent of occurrence and area of occupancy; fewer than 70 locations, declining; habitat area/quality declining; unknown number of mature individuals but at least several thousand; large decline in population size 2-3 generations in past, variable trend among different populations over past generation; 99 percent decline associated with commercial fishing in the Great Lakes over the past 3 generations; most populations have not increased since the early 1900s; severely fragmented; more than a quarter of the historical populations have been lost, but more than half of the remaining populations are either stable or recovering; self-sustaining population units are present in all of the Great Lakes and many tributaries; recent decline in St. Lawrence River due to overexploitation.

Long-term Trend: Decline of >90%
Long-term Trend Comments: Abundance declined drastically during the late 1800s. For example, in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in Missouri, the species declined from economic importance prior to 1900 to rarity by 1908 (Pflieger 1997). In Ohio, this species was abundant in the Ohio River in the 1800s (Trautman 1981). It declined thereafter and for the period 1955-1980 Trautman (1981) mentioned and mapped only one record in the Ohio River. The total commercial catch in the Great Lakes dropped drastically during the late 1800s and early 1900s such that what was a major commercial species became commercially insignificant by 1910 (earlier in some lakes) (Baldwin et al. 1979, Smith 1979, Trautman 1981).

The species now exists at an estimated 1 percent of its former abundance (Hay-Chmielewski and Whelan 1997). Historically, the Lake Michigan population, the largest in the Great Lakes, may have included 11 million fish (Hay-Chmielewski and Whelan 1997). Today, only two rivers in the Lake Michigan basin appear to have annual spawning runs of more than 200 individuals, and several others have annual runs of only 25-75 adults (Environment Canada and U.S. EPA 2007).

Lake sturgeons still inhabit much of their native postglacial distribution in the northern portion of the range in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec (Ferguson and Duckworth 1997). However, overexploitation and habitat alteration have reduced or extirpated some populations. The largest zone of extirpation and population reduction is in the Lake Winnipeg drainage area, which covers more than one-third of Manitoba, and populations have been severely reduced or extirpated include the lower Laurentian Great Lakes of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie (Ferguson and Duckworth 1997). In northern Ontario, lake sturgeon populations whose riverine habitats have been fragmented by two or more dams are substantially reduced from their former levels (Ferguson and Duckworth 1997). Robust populations exist in the Ontario's more remote northern rivers and lakes (Duckworth et al. 1992, Ferguson and Duckworth 1997). Populations in Lake of the Woods and possibly the north channel of Lake Huron and southern Lake Huron appear to be increasing from recent depressed levels and may be capable of sustaining very modest fisheries (Duckworth et al. 1992). No populations in Quebec are known to have been extirpated, but some have declined (Rejean Fortin, pers. comm., cited by Ferguson and Duckworth 1997).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly vulnerable
Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Lake sturgeon is a slow-growing, late-maturing (15-26 years) species that spawns intermittently (once every 4-6 years) (Becker 1983); depleted populations, even if protected, may take many years to recover. On the other hand, individuals are very long lived, so populations sometimes can persist for decades and recover once suitable conditions (e.g., for spawning) are restored.

Generation time in Canada has been estimated at 35-54 years (COSEWIC 2006).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Better information is needed on current abundance and trends in much of the range, the location and characteristics of critical spawning and nursery habitats (e.g., Knights et al. 2002), and the metapopulation and genetic structure of exisitng populations.

In the upper Mississippi River system, better information is needed on the location of spawning areas .

Inventories using trap nets and/or fish caught by commercial fisherman could provide information concerning food habits, population age structure, and location of spawning grounds (Howell, pers. comm., 1990; Rice, pers. comm., 1990). Mark-recapture methodologies would provide a considerable amount of information to this end. Radio-tagging coupled with the monitoring of movements on a seasonable basis also would provide additional useful information. Surveys conducted for the identification of spawning areas also should be made (Dumont et al. 1987).

Protection Needs: Aquatic habitat protection is of primary importance. Releases from hydro-electric dams should be managed to ensure reproductive success and to maintain habitat productivity (Swanson, pers. comm., 1993). Upland areas should be protected in such a way as to avoid degradation of water by point and nonpoint pollution sources. Protection through land aquisition is not feasible or necessary unless primary spawning or resting areas are targeted. Additional policing and enforcement are needed to deter poaching in some areas.

Distribution
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Global Range: (200,000 to >2,500,000 square km (about 80,000 to >1,000,000 square miles)) Large range in North America includes the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes basin from Quebec to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois; Lake Champlain (Vermont and New York); Hudson Bay, James Bay, and Saskatchewan River basins from Quebec to Alberta; and Mississippi River basin from Minnesota and Wisconsin southward to northern Alabama and rarely Arkansas and northern Louisiana, including the Missouri River upstream rarely or formerly as far as southern South Dakota, the Ohio River basin upstream (formerly) to West Virginia, and the Tennessee River as far upstream (at least formerly) to northern Alabama and eastern Tennessee (Lee et al. 1980, Baker 1980, Becker 1983, Smith 1985, Houston 1987, Brousseau 1987, Robison and Buchanan 1988, Page and Burr 1991, Etnier and Starnes 1993, Mettee et al. 1996, Ferguson and Duckworth 1997, Pflieger 1997, Boschung and Mayden 2004). Lake sturgeon also has been found in the Coosa River system, Mobile Bay drainage, Alabama and adjacent northwestern Georgia (Boschung and Mayden 2004). Lake sturgeon is relatively common in the northern portion of its range in Canada but is approaching extinction or is extirpated in the southern part of the range in the Missouri, Ohio, and middle Mississippi river drainages (Page and Burr 1991).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, NCextirpated, NDextirpated, NE, NY, OH, PA, TN, VT, WI, WVextirpated
Canada AB, MB, ON, QC, SK

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AL Baldwin (01003)*
AR Desha (05041), Ouachita (05103), Phillips (05107), Prairie (05117)
GA Cherokee (13057), Floyd (13115), Gordon (13129), Murray (13213), Whitfield (13313)
IA Allamakee (19005), Clayton (19043), Clinton (19045), Jackson (19097), Linn (19113), Muscatine (19139)*, Scott (19163), Wapello (19179)
IL Adams (17001)*, Calhoun (17013), Cass (17017), Fulton (17057), Greene (17061)*, Hancock (17067), Jersey (17083)*, Jo Daviess (17085), La Salle (17099), Madison (17119), Mason (17125)*, Mclean (17113), Menard (17129)*, Peoria (17143), Pike (17149), Randolph (17157), Rock Island (17161), Tazewell (17179), Whiteside (17195), Winnebago (17201)
IN Clark (18019), Floyd (18043), Kosciusko (18085), La Porte (18091), Lake (18089), Lawrence (18093), Martin (18101), Porter (18127), Posey (18129)*, Spencer (18147)*, Vigo (18167)*
KY Ballard (21007), Campbell (21037)*, Crittenden (21055)*, Daviess (21059)*, Fulton (21075)*, Hickman (21105)*, Jefferson (21111)*, Kenton (21117)*, Lewis (21135), Livingston (21139), Lyon (21143)*, McCracken (21145)*, McCreary (21147), Union (21225), Whitley (21235)*
MI Alger (26003)*, Allegan (26005), Alpena (26007)*, Baraga (26013), Berrien (26021)*, Cheboygan (26031)*, Chippewa (26033)*, Delta (26041), Houghton (26061), Huron (26063), Iosco (26069)*, Kent (26081)*, Luce (26095)*, Mackinac (26097)*, Macomb (26099), Manistee (26101), Menominee (26109)*, Muskegon (26121), Newaygo (26123), Presque Isle (26141)*, Schoolcraft (26153)*, St. Clair (26147), Wayne (26163)
MN Aitkin (27001), Becker (27005), Beltrami (27007)*, Big Stone (27011)*, Blue Earth (27013), Brown (27015), Carlton (27017), Chippewa (27023), Chisago (27025), Clay (27027), Cook (27031), Crow Wing (27035), Dakota (27037), Goodhue (27049), Grant (27051)*, Hennepin (27053), Houston (27055), Kanabec (27065), Kittson (27069), Koochiching (27071), Lake (27075), Lake of the Woods (27077), Le Sueur (27079)*, Marshall (27089), Nicollet (27103), Otter Tail (27111)*, Pine (27115), Polk (27119), Ramsey (27123), Red Lake (27125), Roseau (27135), St. Louis (27137), Wabasha (27157), Waseca (27161)*, Washington (27163), Wilkin (27167), Winona (27169), Yellow Medicine (27173)
MO Andrew (29003), Atchison (29005), Boone (29019), Buchanan (29021), Callaway (29027), Cape Girardeau (29031), Carroll (29033), Chariton (29041), Clark (29045)*, Clay (29047), Cole (29051), Cooper (29053), Franklin (29071), Gasconade (29073), Howard (29089), Jackson (29095), Jefferson (29099), Lafayette (29107), Lincoln (29113), Marion (29127), Miller (29131)*, Moniteau (29135), Montgomery (29139), Osage (29151), Perry (29157), Pike (29163), Platte (29165), Ray (29177), Saline (29195), Scott (29201), St. Charles (29183), St. Louis (29189), St. Louis (city) (29510), Ste. Genevieve (29186), Warren (29219)
NE Burt (31021), Cass (31025), Cedar (31027), Dakota (31043), Dodge (31053)*, Douglas (31055), Nemaha (31127), Otoe (31131), Platte (31141), Polk (31143), Richardson (31147), Sarpy (31153), Washington (31177)
NY Cayuga (36011), Erie (36029), Franklin (36033), Jefferson (36045), Madison (36053)*, Niagara (36063), Oneida (36065)*, Onondaga (36067), Orleans (36073), Oswego (36075), Seneca (36099), St. Lawrence (36089), Tompkins (36109)
OH Erie (39043), Hamilton (39061)*, Lorain (39093)*, Lucas (39095), Ottawa (39123)
PA Erie (42049)
TN Davidson (47037), Giles (47055), Hancock (47067), Knox (47093), Meigs (47121)*, Sevier (47155), Smith (47159)*, Stewart (47161), Sumner (47165)
VT Addison (50001), Chittenden (50007), Franklin (50011)
WI Ashland (55003), Brown (55009), Buffalo (55011), Burnett (55013), Chippewa (55017), Columbia (55021), Crawford (55023), Dane (55025), Door (55029), Douglas (55031), Dunn (55033), Eau Claire (55035), Fond Du Lac (55039), Grant (55043), Green Lake (55047), Iowa (55049), Iron (55051), Jackson (55053), Jefferson (55055), Kenosha (55059)*, Kewaunee (55061), Marinette (55075), Monroe (55081), Oconto (55083), Outagamie (55087), Pepin (55091), Pierce (55093), Polk (55095), Price (55099), Racine (55101)*, Richland (55103), Rusk (55107), Sauk (55111), Sawyer (55113), Shawano (55115), Trempealeau (55121), Vernon (55123), Washburn (55129), Waupaca (55135), Waushara (55137), Winnebago (55139)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Lake George (02010001), Otter (02010002), Winooski (02010003), Ausable (02010004), Lamoille (02010005), Missisquoi (02010007)
03 Perdido Bay (03140107)+*, Conasauga (03150101)+, Coosawattee (03150102)+, Oostanaula (03150103)+, Etowah (03150104)+, Upper Coosa (03150105)+, Middle Coosa (03150106)*, Upper Alabama (03150201)*
04 Baptism-Brule (04010101)+, Beaver-Lester (04010102)+, St. Louis (04010201)+, Bad-Montreal (04010302)+, Ontonagon (04020102), Keweenaw Peninsula (04020103)+, Sturgeon (04020104)+, Tahquamenon (04020202)*, Waiska (04020203)+*, Lake Superior (04020300)+, Door-Kewaunee (04030102)+, Oconto (04030104)+, Peshtigo (04030105)+, Brule (04030106), Michigamme (04030107)*, Menominee (04030108)+, Escanaba (04030110)*, Tacoosh-Whitefish (04030111)+, Fishdam-Sturgeon (04030112)+, Upper Fox (04030201)+, Wolf (04030202)+, Lake Winnebago (04030203)+, Lower Fox (04030204)+, Little Calumet-Galien (04040001)+, Pike-Root (04040002)+*, Milwaukee (04040003)*, St. Joseph (04050001)+, Black-Macatawa (04050002)+, Kalamazoo (04050003)+, Upper Grand (04050004), Maple (04050005), Lower Grand (04050006)+, Thornapple (04050007), Pere Marquette-White (04060101)+, Muskegon (04060102)+, Manistee (04060103)+, Manistique (04060106)+, Brevoort-Millecoquins (04060107)+, Lake Michigan (04060200), Lone Lake-Ocqueoc (04070003)+*, Cheboygan (04070004)+, Black (04070005)+, Thunder Bay (04070006)+*, Au Sable (04070007)+*, Pigeon-Wiscoggin (04080103)+, Birch-Willow (04080104)+, Tittabawassee (04080201)*, Pine (04080202)*, Shiawassee (04080203)*, Flint (04080204)*, Cass (04080205)*, Saginaw (04080206)*, Lake St. Clair (04090002)+, Detroit (04090004)+, Huron (04090005)*, Auglaize (04100007)*, Lower Maumee (04100009)*, Cedar-Portage (04100010)+, Sandusky (04100011)*, Huron-Vermilion (04100012)*, Black-Rocky (04110001)+*, Ashtabula-Chagrin (04110003)*, Grand (04110004)*, Chautauqua-Conneaut (04120101), Buffalo-Eighteenmile (04120103)+, Niagara (04120104)+, Lake Erie (04120200)+, Oak Orchard-Twelvemile (04130001)+, Lower Genesee (04130003)*, Irondequoit-Ninemile (04140101)+, Salmon-Sandy (04140102)+, Seneca (04140201)+, Oneida (04140202)+, Oswego (04140203)+, Black (04150101)+, Chaumont-Perch (04150102)+, Lake Ontario (04150200), Upper St. Lawrence (04150301)+, Oswegatchie (04150302)+, Indian (04150303)+, Grass (04150304)+, Raquette (04150305)+, Otter Creek (04150402)+, Winooski River (04150403)+, Lamoille River (04150405)+, Missiquoi River (04150407)+, Lake Champlain (04150408)+
05 Upper Ohio (05030101)*, Upper Ohio-Wheeling (05030106)*, Little Muskingum-Middle Island (05030201)*, Upper Ohio-Shade (05030202)*, Upper Scioto (05060001)*, Lower Scioto (05060002)*, Raccoon-Symmes (05090101)*, Little Scioto-Tygarts (05090103), Ohio Brush-Whiteoak (05090201)+, Middle Ohio-Laughery (05090203)+, Licking (05100101)+*, Middle Wabash-Little Vermilion (05120108)*, Middle Wabash-Busseron (05120111)+*, Lower Wabash (05120113)+*, Little Wabash (05120114)*, Lower East Fork White (05120208)+, Upper Cumberland (05130101)+*, South Fork Cumberland (05130104)+, Upper Cumberland-Cordell Hull (05130106)+, Lower Cumberland-Old Hickory Lake (05130201)+, Lower Cumberland-Sycamore (05130202)+, Lower Cumberland (05130205)+, Silver-Little Kentucky (05140101)+, Lower Ohio-Little Pigeon (05140201)+*, Highland-Pigeon (05140202)+, Lower Ohio-Bay (05140203)+, Lower Ohio (05140206)+
06 Upper French Broad (06010105)*, Lower French Broad (06010107)+, Watts Bar Lake (06010201)*, Upper Clinch (06010205)+, Middle Tennessee-Chickamauga (06020001)+*, Hiwassee (06020002)*, Sequatchie (06020004)*, Wheeler Lake (06030002), Upper Elk (06030003)+, Lower Tennessee-Beech (06040001)*, Lower Tennessee (06040006)+*
07 Prairie-Willow (07010103)+, Elk-Nokasippi (07010104)+, Twin Cities (07010206)+, Rum (07010207)+, Upper Minnesota (07020001)+*, Pomme De Terre (07020002)+*, Hawk-Yellow Medicine (07020004)+, Middle Minnesota (07020007)+, Blue Earth (07020009)+, Le Sueur (07020011)+, Upper St. Croix (07030001)+, Namekagon (07030002)+, Kettle (07030003)+, Snake (07030004)+, Lower St. Croix (07030005)+, Rush-Vermillion (07040001)+, Cannon (07040002)+*, Buffalo-Whitewater (07040003)+, Zumbro (07040004)+, Trempealeau (07040005)+, La Crosse-Pine (07040006)+, Black (07040007)+, Upper Chippewa (07050001)+, Flambeau (07050002)+, South Fork Flambeau (07050003)*, Jump (07050004)+, Lower Chippewa (07050005)+, Eau Claire (07050006)+, Red Cedar (07050007)+, Coon-Yellow (07060001)+, Grant-Little Maquoketa (07060003)+, Apple-Plum (07060005)+, Maquoketa (07060006)+, Upper Wisconsin (07070001)*, Lake Dubay (07070002)*, Castle Rock (07070003)*, Baraboo (07070004)+, Lower Wisconsin (07070005)+, Kickapoo (07070006)*, Copperas-Duck (07080101)+, Lower Wapsipinicon (07080103)+, Flint-Henderson (07080104)+, Lower Cedar (07080206)+, Upper Rock (07090001), Crawfish (07090002)+, Pecatonica (07090003)+, Lower Rock (07090005)+, Lower Des Moines (07100009)+, Bear-Wyaconda (07110001)+, North Fabius (07110002), The Sny (07110004)+, Salt (07110007), Cuivre (07110008)+, Peruque-Piasa (07110009)+, Kankakee (07120001)+, Chicago (07120003)*, Lower Illinois-Senachwine Lake (07130001)+, Lower Illinois-Lake Chautauqua (07130003)+, Mackinaw (07130004)+, Spoon (07130005)+, Lower Sangamon (07130008)+*, Lower Illinois (07130011)+, Macoupin (07130012)+*, Cahokia-Joachim (07140101)+, Upper Mississippi-Cape Girardeau (07140105)+, Whitewater (07140107)+
08 Lower Mississippi-Memphis (08010100)+, Bayou De Chien-Mayfield (08010201)+*, Lower Mississippi-Helena (08020100)+, New Madrid-St. Johns (08020201), Lower White-Bayou Des Arc (08020301)+, Lower White (08020303)+, Little Missouri (08040103)*, Lower Ouachita-Bayou De Loutre (08040202)*, Lower Mississippi-Natchez (08060100)*
09 Mustinka (09020102)+*, Otter Tail (09020103)+*, Upper Red (09020104)+, Western Wild Rice (09020105), Eastern Wild Rice (09020108)+, Sandhill-Wilson (09020301)+, Red Lakes (09020302)+*, Red Lake (09020303)+, Clearwater (09020305)+, Grand Marais-Red (09020306)+, Turtle (09020307)*, Lower Red (09020311)+, Roseau (09020314)+, Rainy Headwaters (09030001)+, Vermilion (09030002)+, Rainy Lake (09030003)+, Upper Rainy (09030004), Little Fork (09030005)+, Big Fork (09030006)+, Lower Rainy (09030008)+, Lake of the Woods (09030009)+
10 Lewis and Clark Lake (10170101)+, Middle Platte-Prairie (10200103)+, Lower Platte (10200202)+, Lower Elkhorn (10220003)+*, Blackbird-Soldier (10230001)+, Big Papillion-Mosquito (10230006)+, Keg-Weeping Water (10240001)+, Nishnabotna (10240004), Tarkio-Wolf (10240005)+, Independence-Sugar (10240011)+, Lower Kansas (10270104)*, Lower Grand (10280103)+, Little Chariton (10280203)+, Lower Osage (10290111)+, Lower Gasconade (10290203)+, Lower Missouri-Crooked (10300101)+, Lower Missouri-Moreau (10300102)+, Lamine (10300103)+, Lower Missouri (10300200)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed (based on multiple information sources) Help
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A heavy-bodied, demersal, toothless fish.
General Description: The lake sturgeon is a torpedo-shaped, heavy-bodied species (Becker 1983, Priegel and Wirth 1977). In the young, the body is angular, but becomes round in cross-section in adults. The snout is long and tapering in young, becoming short and conical in adults. Four smooth barbels occur on the lower snout. A pair of spiracles are present on the top of the head, immediately in front of the gill slits. Five longitudinal rows of bony plates, two on each side of the body and one along the back, are present. In young sturgeon up to two years of age, the plates possess a sharply pointed hook. As sturgeons age, the spiny appearance disappears. Old individuals appear smooth. The caudal peduncle is short, stout and partly naked. The caudal fin is heterocercal with the upper lobe longer than the lower. The fin does not possess a filamentous extension. Considerable color variation exists in the species, even within populations. Young are typically gray or brown dorsally with dusky dorsal and lateral blotches. Adults are gray to olivaceous dorsally and white underneath.
Diagnostic Characteristics: Differs from the shovelnose sturgeon (SCAPHIRHYNCUS PLATORHYNCUS) in having spiracles and in lacking a completely scute-covered caudal peduncle and a long filament on the upper lobe of the caudal fin in the young (Cook et al. 1987).
Reproduction Comments: Spawning occurs in spring or early summer (mid- to late May, at water temperatures of about 11-22 C, near Montreal, Quebec) (LaHaye et al. 1992). Spawning takes place during late April and early May in central Wisconsin (Becker 1983). In northern Wisconsin, however, the spawning run takes place later in the year, from May to early June (Eddy and Underhill 1974). Spawning dates are apparently dependent on water temperatures and can vary widely between given years. Baker (1980) observed sturgeon on spawning runs in Michigan during May and June, when water temperatures varied between 52 and 53 F. Rusak and Mosindy (1997) found that lake-wintering and river-wintering populations of the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River system appeared to spawn and initiate extensive spring and summer movements at different times.

Males usually arrive at the spawning sites before the females, and cruise the area in schools of a dozen or more individuals (Priegel and Wirth 1971). Spawning is initiated as soon as a ripe female enters a school of males. Several males attend a single female, swimming alongside her in the same direction, usually against the current (Priegel and Wirth 1971). Spawning lasts about 5 seconds, whereupon the group drifts downstream or into deeper water, then returns. The spawning activity for one female usually lasts from 5 to 8 hours, but may extend to over one day in length (Priegel and Wirth 1971).

Males release milt at the time that the eggs are extruded, fertilizing the eggs. The glutinous eggs are black and about 3 mm in diameter. Egg production by females varies considerably; anywhere from 50,000 to 700,000 are released by a single female (Priegel and Wirth 1971). Eggs receive no parental care (Baker 1980). Eggs are preyed upon by suckers, carp, catfish, and other sturgeons (Becker 1983).

Hatching of eggs is apparently dependent on water temperature. In waters between 55 and 57 degrees F (12.8-13.9 C), hatching takes 8 days. In warmer temperatures (17 C), hatching occurs in five days (Priegel and Wirth 1971). Harkness and Dymond (1961) reported that eggs hatched in 5-8 days when water temperatures were 60-64 F. Near Montreal, Quebec, larval emigration from spawning ground began 11 days after peak spawning.

Fry are roughly 8 mm (0.3 inches) long upon hatching, but grow to 21 mm after 16 days of development (Harkness and Dymond 1961). Growth is rapid during the first 10 years of life, then slows and becomes extremely variable among different individuals (Baker 1980). Mortality among sexes varies considerably during the first 10-15 years of life. Among the largest and oldest sturgeon, there is a predominance of females (Baker 1980). Of all freshwater fishes, the lake sturgeon takes the longest to reach sexual maturity (Houston 1987). The age of first spawning varies between the two sexes, with latitude and within a population. It has been estimated that maturity in A. FULVESCENS is reached between eight and 13 years, but first spawning occurs at 8 to 19 years for males and 14 to 23 years for females (Roussow 1957). Becker (1983), however stated that female lake sturgeons reach sexual maturity when they are 24-26 years old and roughly 140 cm (55 in) in length.

Upon reaching sexual maturity, the females will spawn once every 4-6 years. Males mature when they reach a size of 114 cm (45 in) in length, then spawn every year or every other year (Becker 1983). Males and females generally grow at the same rate, but females tend to live longer (Dumont et al. 1987, Becker 1983). Individuals can live as long as 80 years or more (Scott and Crossman 1973). An individual taken in Lake of the Woods of Minnesota/Ontario in 1953 was thought to be 154 years old, weighing 94.6 kg (MacKay 1963).

Ecology Comments: Lampreys (PETROMYZON MARINUS and ICHTHYOMYZON UNICUSPIS) infrequently attach themselves to lake sturgeons and may seriously weaken or kill them (Scott and Crossman 1973). Scutes generally protect the young from lamprey parasitism, whereas larger individuals are generally too large to be affected (Houston 1987).

Apparently, few other parasites have been recorded on lake sturgeon (Hoffman 1967). Known parasites include: Monongenea (3 species), Trematoda (8 species), Nematoda (3 species), Acanthocephala (1 species), Hirudinoidea (1 species) and Brachiura (1 species) (Margolis and Arthur 1979). Hoffman et al. (1974) found a coelenterate (POLYPODIUM SP.) in the ovaries of sturgeon taken from Black Lake in Michigan. Baker (1980) recorded CUCULLANUS CHITELLARIUS from the hind gut and SPINITECTUS GRACILIS from the esophagus of sturgeon found in the Saginaw River in Michigan.

Apparently, the lake sturgeon does not compete with other bottom feeding fishes (COREGONUS CLUPEAFORMIS, CATASTOMUS COMMERSONI and C. CATOSTOMUS) for food, since they feed in different habitats (Scott and Crossman 1973). According to Sandilands (1987), the shorthead redhorse (MOXOSTOMA SPP.) is the only fish species that may actively compete with lake sturgeon for available food supplies in the Kenogami River of Ontario.

Habitat Type: Freshwater
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: Few studies have been successful in defining lake sturgeon movements (Sandilands 1987). Sturgeons generally are believed to travel widely, in loose aggregations, within their "home range," leaving it only to spawn in the spring, then returning (Sandilands 1987, Dumont et al. 1987, Becker 1983, Priegel and Wirth 1971). Within a given "home range", Scott and Crossman (1973) believed that lake sturgeon moved from shallow to deeper waters in the summer, to shallow waters in the fall, and back to deeper waters in the winter.

Migrations between spawning and nonspawning habitats frequently are as long as 125 km and may be as far as 400 km (Sandilands 1987).

In the upper Mississippi River system, individuals had ranges of 3-198 km (median 56 km); certain river reaches were unique to groups or substocks of fish (Knights et al. 2002).

In the Kettle River, Minnesota, a small population remained year-round in a 20-mile section of river and appeared to mix very little with nearby populations, despite the absence of physical barriers at either end of the occupied reach (Borkholder et al. 2001).

See Fortin et al. (1993) for information on movements in the St. Lawrence and Ottawa river systems.

Riverine Habitat(s): BIG RIVER, Low gradient, Moderate gradient
Lacustrine Habitat(s): Deep water, Shallow water
Special Habitat Factors: Benthic
Habitat Comments: Primary habitat is the bottoms of large, clean, freshwater rivers and lakes (Hocutt and Wiley 1986, Becker 1983), although the species rarely occurs in the brackish water of the lower St. Lawrence River and the Moose River near James Bay (Scott and Crossman 1973). Preferred substrates include firm sand, gravel, or rock (Pflieger 1975). In the Great Lakes, A. fulvescens lives primarily in shoal water. Lakes sturgeons are found most often at depths of 5-10 meters (COSEWIC 2006), but larger fish occasionally have been taken at depths of up to 43 meters (Harkness and Dymond 1961, Scott and Crossman 1973). In rivers, preferred habitat is deep mid-river areas and pools, where water depths vary between four and nine meters and food is abundant (Harkness and Dymond 1961, Priegel and Wirth 1977). In the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in Missouri (Pflieger 1997), habitat is characterized by river channels developed in deep deposits of gravel, sand, and silt, possessing numerous islands, side channels, and backwaters (Pflieger 1989); a continuous strong flow coupled with one or two periods of sustained flooding is also indicative of this habitat; gradients are generally less than 1 foot per mile.

In rivers, spawning occurs in water generally 0.3-4.7 meters deep, typically in areas of swift currents, rapids, or waterfalls that prevent upstream migration (Scott and Crossman 1973, Priegel and Wirth 1971, Harkness and Dymond 1961). Spawning sites in the Wolf River of Wisconsin typically occur on the outside bends of river banks, particularly where upwelling currents and substrates of boulders, rocks, or slabs of concrete have been riprapped at a steep angle (Priegel and Wirth 1971). Spawning substrate varies from hard-pan clay to gravel to boulders, including riprap that has been placed along river edges (LaHaye et al. 1992, COSEWIC 2006). In rivers, larvae drift downstream. In lakes, spawning occurs over rocky ledges or shoals where wave action produces sufficient oxygen levels for the eggs. No nest is constructed; eggs and milt are scattered over the bottom where fertilized eggs adhere to rocks.

Young sturgeons travel in large schools over gravel areas and sand bars during the fall months of their first year. After the first year, the young inhabit the same areas as older fish, as described above (Becker 1983).

Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: Feeds mainly on small invertebrates obtained from the bottom. At a very small size (19 mm in length), the young start feeding on minute crustaceans and continue on that diet until they are 178-203 mm in length (Eddy and Underhill 1974). As a whole, lake sturgeon feed largely on leeches, snails, small clams, and other small invertebrates, including insects (Houston 1987). Analysis of stomach contents from fish in Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin, showed an almost pure preference for CHIRONOMUS PLUMOSUS. One individual, however, possessed leeches, Psidium clams, and small snails, along with the chironomids. Individuals from the Chippewa River, Wisconsin, fed largely on snails. Small fishes such as sticklebacks and sculpins have also been found in stomach contents and may represent an important food source in some areas (Harkness 1923). Individuals found near grain elevators have been known to consume spilled grain, while algae has also been found in lake sturgeon stomachs (Scott and Crossman 1973). Sandilands (1987) reported that the diet in the Kenogami River of Ontario was similar to that stated for other river systems, except for the preponderance of crayfish. Magnin and Harper (1970) listed caddisflies, mayflies, diptera, stoneflies, and dragonflies as the predominant food items in the Waswancipi River, Quebec. For a detailed summary of food and feeding habits, refer to Harkness (1923) and Harkness and Dymond (1961).

Adults apparently require extensive areas of water less than 30 feet (914 cm) in depth (Becker 1983). Feeding is accomplished by probing the sediments with the ends of sensitive barbels dragging lightly over the bottom (Priegel and Wirth 1971). Upon contacting food, the tubular mouth is protruded and the food is sucked in along with sediments. The sediments are screened out through the gills, with the food retained within the crop. Feeding habits apparently differ with respect to food availability.

Phenology Comments: Feeding activity occurs throughout the year, including winter (Priegel and Wirth 1971), but apparently ceases during spawning (Houston 1987).
Length: 140 centimeters
Economic Attributes
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Economic Comments: The most important North American commercial fishery for lake sturgeon is in the St. Lawrence River (annual yield 15,000-30,000 fishes) (Fortin et al. 1993).
Management Summary
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Stewardship Overview: Monitoring needs include tracking the status of populations in various habitats throughout the range. Changes in habitat quality, population levels, harvest quotas, and reproduction also should be monitored.

Research should be centered around the completion of baseline population surveys. In addition, early life history, the sexual maturation cycle, reproductive requirements, and the utilization of potential non-native food sources should be investigated.

Management needs include a strict control over harvest quotas, the rehabilitation of spawning stock, and pollution control. In many areas habitat restoration is needed because spawning and rearing habitat has been destroyed or altered, or access to it has been blocked.

In many areas, population reintroduction is ongoing. Reintroduction is occurring in some northern regions, such as Wisconsin, where some lake sturgeon populations were extirpated but others are in relatively good shape. Restoration is also being attempted farther south where the species was completely extirpated. For example, as of 2006, tens of thousands of lake sturgeons had been released into the French Broad and Holston Rivers downstream of Douglas and Cherokee reservoirs in Tennessee; other release sites in Tennessee include the upper Clinch River and the Cumberland River (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency). Similar programs are underway in the Coosa River in Georgia (Georgia Department of Natural Resources) and in other parts of the range.

Restoration Potential: Recovery in historic range is a long-term, extremely slow process. Since the lake sturgeon is a slow-growing, late-maturing (15-25 years) species that spawns intermittently (once every 4-7 years), its turn-over rate is slow. Depleted populations, as a result of habitat destruction and commercial overharvesting, may take many years to recover even with adequate protection. It is apparent that recovery will not take place in watersheds where habitat degradation and excess fishing continues to occur. Once populations have recovered, minimal levels of harvest may be possible.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources completed a three-year study in which eggs were obtained from female sturgeon, fertilized, and grown within McDonald jars (Anderson 1987). Fairly good success was reported for fry fed with a natural, as opposed to an artificial, diet. Currently, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is conducting a five-year recovery program for the sturgeon in the St. Louis River of northeastern Minnesota, using artificially procured sturgeon (Anderson 1987).

New York Department of Environmental Conservation has been using artificial propagation of this species to reestablish populations of lake sturgeon in selected tributaries of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, including the Oswegatchie River, Black Lake, the St. Regis River, Oneida Lake and Cayuga Lake.

Information obtained through these stocking attempts should provide additional information pertaining to the recovery potential of this species.

Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: Protection of upland areas within a given watershed is needed to ensure habitat maintenance and reduce the risk of degradation through point and non-point pollution sources. Protection through land acquisition is not feasible or necessary unless primary spawning or resting areas are targeted.
Management Requirements: The lake sturgeon is a late-maturing, slow-growing, long-lived fish and is able to withstand only light levels of harvest pressure (Cook et al. 1987). The best indication of an over-exploited fishery is an abundance of young, small fish present in a catch (Wirth and Schultz 1957). Due to the low tolerance of this species to harvest, management must control the amount of harvest in all active fisheries.

As a whole, regulations intended to control harvest and manage lake sturgeon populations have been woefully inadequate (Hart 1987). Given the biology of the species and its habitat requirements, prompt and sound management practices must be applied if population levels are to rebound. Rehabilitation of the spawning stocks in some areas must be considered (Dumont et al. 1987).

Management must also be concerned with the availability of suitable spawning habitat and water quality. Procedures designed to reduce siltation, pesticide pollution, and point-source pollutants should be implemented in selected rivers where the likelihood of sturgeon restoration is most likely.

MacRitchie (1983) estimated that riverine lake sturgeon populations in areas of good habitat could sustain a long-term yield of 0.20-0.28 kg per hectare, if only young fish (under 90 cm) were harvested. On one fishery that had undergone past exploitation, however, the fishery collapsed very rapidly under this quota (Payne 1987). Whatever the case, management of commercial fisheries for sustained yield is a must, and may require extremely downgraded harvest quotas in years to come. In order to implement appropriate management tactics, managers must have population-specific knowledge of lake sturgeon biomass, annual yield, age of maturity, length-at-age and weight-at-age information in a particular water system (Hart 1987). To date, no information exists on successful management of lake sturgeon for sustained yields in northern waters (Nowak and Jessop 1987).

Protection of adults of spawning age has been suggested as a means of improving the long-term sturgeon populations (Hart 1987, Mosindy 1987). Imposition of slot limits (Nowak and Jessop 1987) and restrictions on gear (Hart 1987) would protect most of the brood stock. A fecundity study specific to a given fishery would first be required in order to determine which size class should be made available for harvest. Payne (1987) recommended a maximum size limit of 90 cm for commercially harvested fish, just below average mature size estimates. Nowak and Jessop (1987) suggested a slot range of 105 cm to 130 cm as possible for sport anglers in the Groundhog and Mattagami rivers in Ontario. Slot ranges have also been suggested for the St. Lawrence River in Quebec (Dumont et al. 1987). In areas such as the St. Lawrence River, Quebec (Dumont et al. 1987) and in Ontario (Hart 1987), minimum size limits are in effect and are not protecting the brood stock.

In some areas, spawning adults are protected by close monitoring of important sites. For example, Michigan Department of Natural Resources joins forces with local citizens in Cheboygan County to protect spawning lake sturgeon in the upper Black River. This section of the Black River has long been a problem spot for the illegal taking of lake sturgeon during spring spawning. But with the help of `Sturgeon Watch' volunteers, key areas can be monitored 24 hours a day. In Wisconsin, with the help of Sturgeon For Tomorrow, a conservation group, poaching has been significantly reduced on the Lake Winnebago-Wolf River System. The volunteer group, now 2,500 members strong, helps organize, fund, and serve on round-the-clock patrols to guard spawning sturgeon along the Wolf River.

Payne (1987) recommended the following management practices in three rivers in Ontario: 1) a cancellation of existing licenses in some river systems, 2) reduction of the quota, and 3) allocation of sturgeon in some areas exclusively to the sport fishery. Similar management procedures might be considered for other sturgeon waters.

Remaining highly productive fisheries and spawning grounds should be considered for protection as fish sanctuaries (Nowak and Jessop 1987, Hart 1987). Since spawning sturgeons are very vulnerable to harvest due to concentration at predictable time periods, closed seasons should be required during such periods (Hart 1987). The stretch of the Groundhog River in Ontario from LaDuke to "the Pot" has been proposed as a sanctuary from May 1 until July 15 to protect this excellent spawning and post-spawning rest area (Nowak and Jessop 1987).

Hart (1987) argued that current Ontario fishery regulations do not allow fishery managers the specific capability to appropriately manage lake sturgeon populations. Recent sturgeon studies have reported that age of maturity, and size and weight as an indicator of age, vary widely between watersheds and even within watersheds. Adjustable regulations for each lake sturgeon fishery have been recommended to better manage sturgeon in the province. Hart (1987) further stated that the management of lake sturgeon commercial fisheries must be based on: 1) management for sustained yields, 2) brood stock maintenance, 3) implementation of management initiatives that consider restoration of depleted populations, 4) protection and enhancement of lake sturgeon spawning and nursery habitat, and 5) determination if commercial and sport fishing can coexist, followed by the allocation of harvest according to specific management concerns.

Sturgeon aquaculture is new and largely experimental. As a result, suitable prepared food items have not been developed, placing total reliance on expensive, difficult-to-acquire, natural food items. At present the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has had success raising sturgeon fry on a progressive sequence of natural foods based on the size and development of the fry: immature brine shrimp, to zooplankton, to frozen adult brine shrimp, to frozen krill (Barsness, pers. comm.). Frozen adult brine shrimp were substituted for live Tubifex worms from California when there was some concern that the worms could carry a disease and decimate the stock.

Management of the aquatic habitat is also a mandatory requirement for successful, long-term population maintenance (Harkness and Dymond 1961). Any gains obtained by intense fishery management will be for naught if environmental degradation makes the fishery uninhabitable or unsuitable for reproduction.

Monitoring Requirements: Population monitoring programs should be installed at representative sites throughout the range. A concern for monitoring is to determine if natural reproduction is occurring. Although individuals may occasionally be caught by fishermen in a given state, that is no guarantee that local reproduction is occurring.

Habitat quality should also be a primary concern for monitoring. As habitat quality changes, similar fluctuations in A. FULVESCENS populations can also be expected.

Monitoring should keep an eye on commercial and sport fisheries to determine if overharvesting is occurring. Whether harvest of lake sturgeon is permitted or not, close monitoring of population numbers and compliance with extant fishing laws needs to be undertaken. In Kentucky, Cicerello (pers. comm.) stated that fisheries biologists need to educate and work cooperatively with fishermen to prevent the loss of sturgeon individuals if they are caught.

Due to extremely small sample sizes, fishery biologists often place low confidence on population estimates, mortality rates, and estimates of recruitment (Hart 1987). Also, if population estimates are formulated on short-term netting programs, results are unlikely to reflect seasonal variations in populations (Sandilands 1987). Fish densities and the effectiveness of different sampling gears in a given area vary greatly on a seasonal basis. Set lines are apparently very effective for monitoring in the fall, but inefficient in the spring and summer (Sandilands 1987).

Likewise, mortality rate estimates are also unreliable due to seasonal variations with respect to gear efficiency and fish density (Sandilands 1987). Because of generally low confidence in estimates of current mortality rates and populations, quantitative estimates of recruitment are also unreliable. Despite these inherently poor predictors of sustainable yield, managers still must assign harvest quotas for selected commercial and sport fisheries. In order to effectively determine actual population densities, mortality rates, and recruitment, and consequently, sustainable yield, better methodologies need to be developed.

In areas where A. FULVESCENS is extremely rare, radiotelemetry work may be considered as a learning tool (Cicerello, pers. comm.). Such monitoring of lake sturgeon behavior could provide valuable information pertaining to the life history and preferred habitats of the species in such areas. Rice (pers. comm.) suggested that remnant populations in Lake Erie should be monitored using radio-tags. Such studies would provide useful information in determining movement patterns within the lake and possible spawning areas.

Management Research Needs: Baker (1980) stated that research on early life-history is needed. Growth, mortality, movements, food intake, and factors affecting year class strength should be investigated. Research needs to be continued with regard to the sexual maturation cycle (Dumont et al. 1987). Specific reproductive requirements and factors affecting spawning success need to be researched (Hesse, pers. comm. 1990; Baker 1980). Can these requirements be met by water level management or habitat rehabilitation where lake sturgeon once lived? Knowledge of these life history characteristics and reproductive requirements would play a large part in habitat rehabilitation and recovery/reintroduction.

In the upper Mississippi river system, information on population numbers and dynamics, spawning areas, relations among different groups of sturgeons, and effects of commercial navigation is needed to aid in development of effective management strategies (Knights et al. 2002).

Inventories using trap nets and/or fish caught by commercial fishermen could provide information concerning food habits, population age structure, and location of spawning grounds (Howell, pers. comm., Rice, pers. comm.). Mark-recapture methodologies would provide a considerable amount of information to this end. Radio-tagging could provide valuable information pertaining to life history, preferred habitats, and movement patterns. Rice (pers. comm., 1990) suggested that remnant populations in Lake Erie should be monitored using radio-tags in order to obtain information on movements within the lake and possible spawning areas. Research into habitat carrying capacity, economical culture techniques, and habitat enhancement also is needed (Swanson, pers. comm., 1993).

Rice (pers. comm., 1990) stated that it would be interesting to know if the lake sturgeon is using the rapidly expanding, exotic, zebra mussel population as a new food source.

Biological Research Needs: In the upper Mississippi River system, information is needed on population dynamics and the effects of commercial navigation (Knights et al. 2002). Better information is needed on current exploitation rates. Little is known about the juvenile life stage (Environment Canada and U.S. EPA 2007).
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Nonanadromous Sturgeons

Use Class: Not applicable
Subtype(s): Wintering Area, Spawning Area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including eggs and larvae) in appropriate habitat.
Separation Barriers: Dam lacking a suitable fishway; high waterfall; upland habitat.
Alternate Separation Procedure: Generally each river or lake should be treated as a different occurrence, unless information on movements indicates otherwise, in which case an occurrence may encompass multiple lakes or rivers. For the largest bodies of water, use a separation distance of 200 km (measured in aquatic habitat, not over land) for both suitable and unsuitable habitat, but be careful not to separate a population's spawning and nonspawning habitats as different occurrences (i.e., do not use the 200-km separation distance without accounting for seasonal migrations, if any). Also, a smaller separation distance can be used if adequate study (radiotelemetry or recapture data) indicates that occupied locations separated by less than 200 km are not part of a single population.
Separation Justification: Separation distance is arbitrary but reflects the long-distance movements that have been documented in these fishes. For example, in the upper Mississippi River system, individual lake sturgeon had ranges of 3-198 km (median 56 km) (Knights et al. 2002). Because of the difficulty in defining suitable versus unsuitable habitat, especially with respect to dispersal, and to simplify the delineation of occurrences, a single separation distance is used regardless of habitat quality.

Some populations may, on at least a short-term basis, exhibit limited mobility. For example, in the Kettle River, Minnesota, a small population of lake sturgeon remained year-round in a 32-km section of river and appeared to mix very little with nearby populations, despite the absence of physical barriers at either end of the occupied reach (Borkholder et al. 2001). However, the authors believed that mixing probably did occur on a time scale of years.

Date: 09Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 08May2011
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G., J. Losey, J. Whittaker, and W. Ostlie
Management Information Edition Date: 01Jun1990
Management Information Edition Author: OSTLIE, WAYNE. UPDATES BY G. HAMMERSON.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 30Jan2008
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

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  • Thomas, M. V., and R. C. Haas. 1999. Capture of lake sturgeon with setlines in the St. Clair River, Michigan. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 19:610-612.

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  • State Natural Heritage Data Centers. 1996a. Aggregated element occurrence data from all U.S. state natural heritage programs, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Navajo Nation and the District of Columbia. Science Division, The Nature Conservancy.

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