Natural Resources - Sturgeon Restoration

Lake Sturgeon

Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) were once present in the St. Louis River. Habitat degradation through dams and land uses and over fishing have caused sturgeon to be considered nearly extirpated in the portion of the St. Louis River upstream of the Fond du Lac Dam. Lake Sturgeon are a long lived fish, but also are slow to reach reproductive maturity. Fond du Lac Natural Resources Program began a reintroduction program in 1998 by placing sturgeon eggs in nesting boxes into the St. Louis River system. The source of eggs was a river system in Wisconsin which supports a strain of sturgeon that spend their lifetime in a riverine environment. Most sturgeon will spend a portion of their life in the river they hatch from, but eventually migrate to lakes. The thought at the time of the implementation of this restoration plan was to stock the river with river resident sturgeon, reducing the likelihood of downstream migration. If fish were to migrate downstream on the St. Louis River they would need to survive passage through the five major dams in order to reach Lake Superior.

Although this plan was well intentioned, genetic concerns have caused us to seek a new source of eggs for stocking. The lower St. Louis River was being stocked with sturgeon from the same source of eggs, but ceased out of concern for the genetic integrity of other sturgeon fisheries in Lake Superior. In keeping with the prevailing notion of genetic integrity, Fond du Lac acquired eggs from the Sturgeon River in Michigan which is a tributary to Lake Superior in 2006. As part of interstate transport and stocking, fish health must be determined before stocking can take place. The testing that is done requires holding eggs in a hatchery until the tissues of the parent fish pass certain tests. Michigan DNR provided this service, but with the onset of concern over Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) in Great Lakes fish, they have temporarily ceased holding fish from the Great Lakes in order to protect the hatcheries from contamination. In 2007, numerous state and federal agencies are conducting testing to identify the spread of VHS and ways to safely incubate fish while protecting inland waters from infestation of this deadly disease. Once a safe method and egg source are located, we look to resume stocking sturgeon in the upper St. Louis River system.

Besides stocking we conduct population assessments every two years with the assistance of US Fish and Wildlife staff to determine the survival and recruitment of lake sturgeon that we have stocked. In previous surveys no sturgeon have been located, but we have received angler reports of young sturgeon caught. If you are fishing anywhere on the St. Louis or Cloquet Rivers and catch a sturgeon, please photograph it if you can, or document the length and contact our office. With such a large river system it is difficult to capture so few fish in the time we spend on the water, so information from the public is welcomed.

For more information on sturgeon please visit these links.