Conservation Efforts to Protect Lake Sturgeon in the Grand River

Lake sturgeon were once abundant in the Great Lakes, but overharvesting and construction of dams that obstructed access to their spawning grounds led to the fish being designated a threatened species in Michigan in 1994.  Recovery efforts have since been undertaken to revive the lake sturgeon population.

One team spearheading these efforts is a partnership between the Grand Rapids Public Museum, John Ball Zoo, Encompass Socio-ecological Consulting, and Grand Valley State University.  This year, the team received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for nearly $150,000 to conduct surveys for lake sturgeon in the Grand River.  In September 2022, they discovered juvenile lake sturgeon in the river, confirming its status as a potential spawning ground.  Since then, they have documented an additional 15 sturgeon in the Grand River.  

Lake sturgeon are one of the oldest and largest native fish species in the Great Lakes.  They can grow to over six feet in length and weigh nearly 200 pounds.  Sturgeon have an impressive lifespan of 55-120 years.  They are covered in bony, armor-like plates and have four barbels that they use to locate prey.  

These fish have a unique life cycle: hatching in rivers where they spend the first months of their life before migrating to lakes where they grow and reach sexual maturity.  They then return to rivers and swim upstream to spawn.  Lake sturgeon are particularly vulnerable to changes in water level and temperature as they travel between habitats, creating challenges to conserving the fish species.  

The research being conducted by Grand Rapids Public Museum and its partners is helping to document the juvenile lake sturgeon population in the Grand River.  They hope to employ new sampling techniques as they continue to learn about the population dynamics of the river and contribute to efforts to conserve this important native species.  

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