Sturgeon were once so abundant in the Great Lakes region that they were caught by commercial fisherman in nets intended for white fish. They were often discarded on the beach, and even burned in place of logs to power steamboats across Lake Ontario to Canada. Today, they are considered a threatened, vulnerable or endangered species in 19 of the 20 States where they reside.
Called the “Dinosaurs of the Great Lakes,” the lake sturgeon (which scientists call Acipenser fulvescens) is the oldest and largest native species of fish in the Great Lakes. Sturgeon are often called “swimming fossils”, since they’ve remained anatomically unchanged for 85 million years and have inhabited the Great Lakes region for more than 10,000 years.
In 1885, a peak harvest of 8.6 million pounds of lake sturgeon by European settlers for filet, caviar and isinglass across all of the Great Lakes led to collapse of the commercial fishery as well as the sturgeon population. Fortunately, remnant populations of 7-foot, 300-pound sturgeon found refuge in the deep, fast flowing international waters of the Niagara River below Niagara Falls and the St. Lawrence River. These sturgeon enabled populations to rebound when habitat loss and fishing pressures lessened.
To see what’s being done to restore Lake Sturgeon to the Great Lakes and its tributaries, tap the thumbnail below.