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Researchers see progress for lake sturgeon repopulation

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A pair of new studies has found lake sturgeon in two places, a sign of progress in the state’s effort to replenish its population of the fish.

Two wild juvenile sturgeon were found in Oswegatchie River near the outlet of Black Lake and in Oneida Lake.

“This is a truly significant event,” Joe Martens, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s commissioner, said in a statement. “DEC staff and partners in this effort have been eagerly awaiting this news ever since egg-bearing female sturgeon were first detected in stocked locations one year ago. It is a great example of how, with good science and great partnerships, we can restore a species that nearly disappeared from our state.”

According to the DEC’s release, the Oswegatchie lake sturgeon was found June 12 by a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Sciences. The 2-pound, 25-inch fish was 5 years old, and the only wild sturgeon caught in the river for more than 30 years. It may have originated from remnant wild fish in the system or from adult fish stocked in the Oswegatchie system more than 20 years ago.

The Oneida Lake sturgeon was caught July 30 by researchers from Cornell University’s Shackleton Point Biological Field Station. The 2-year-old fish weighed 1 pound.

The DEC said the capture of this fish indicates successful reproduction by fish stocked as 6- to 10-inch fingerlings. More than 8,000 lake sturgeon were stocked in Oneida Lake from 1995 to 2004.

Biologists at the field station predicted that lake sturgeon would begin to appear in their walleye sampling nets once the sturgeon were about 2 years old.

The DEC said lake sturgeon are the largest fish native to the Great Lakes, and can grow to 7 feet in length and 300 pounds. Once abundant, the fish’s population dropped because of overfishing and the impacts of dams.

Lake sturgeon has been listed as a threatened species in New York since 1983.

The DEC said the population of the fish is at about 1 percent of its total numbers before 1850.

In an attempt to shore up its numbers, the DEC has raised and released more than 65,000 juvenile lake sturgeon since 1995.

The department also received assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Genoa National Fish Hatchery in 2012 and 2013 to raise the fish for release into tributaries along the St. Lawrence River.

In its press release, the DEC asked anglers to avoid catching lake sturgeon by staying away from locations where they spawn in the late spring, and not bottom fishing with worms in areas they populate.

If one of the fish is hooked, the DEC said to release it immediately and avoid taking it out of the water.

More information about lake sturgeon can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/animals/26035.html.

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