Sturgeon Watch

Sturgeon have had a rough time of it. Once plentiful, sturgeon became so rare that many people had never seen one. They have been described as living dinosaurs or prehistoric survivors. It is estimated that they have been around for more than 130 million years. They grow to enormous size and can live for a century. These giant fish had been harvested almost to extinction. First, they were killed as a nuisance because they would get caught in such numbers that they damaged commercial fishing gear on the Great Lakes. In the 1860’s they were killed or dumped back in the lake. In other cases, they were fed to pigs, used as fertilizer and even stacked to be used as fuel for steamboats. Later their meat and eggs became valuable and those same commercial fishermen targeted the Sturgeon. In the 1890’s the annual haul from the Great Lakes exceeded 4 million pounds per year. These huge harvests combined with the damage to spawning streams from agriculture and lumbering led to a catastrophic decline in the sturgeon population. Today, 19 of the 20 states within its original range list the sturgeon as protected or endangered.


sturgeon tagging


While the protected status has helped, sturgeon are still rare, but there is a way for anyone to not only see huge sturgeon in the water, you can also interact with them. That opportunity has become available to everyone thanks to the vision and dedication of one woman, Brenda Archambo, President of Sturgeon for Tomorrow. In northeast Michigan lies Cheboygan County. In the forest there is Black Lake and the Black River, where sturgeon have not only survived, they are thriving, their numbers increasing year by year. Every spring in April and May, those sturgeon move from the lake, up the river to spawn in the waters where they were born, just as they have for thousands of years. During those weeks, the sturgeon are at risk to poachers who covet their eggs as caviar. Individuals and groups can volunteer to keep watch in cooperation with Sturgeon for Tomorrow and the DNR. In the process people can get up close and personal with these freshwater giants.