It’s an exciting time for sturgeon in the St. Louis River. In 2011, four young sturgeon were collected in an area below the Fond du Lac dam by tribal biologists. This is the first evidence of sturgeon reproduction in the river in many decades.
Photo of one of the young sturgeon collected from the St. Louis River, courtesy of Brian Borkholder of the Fond du Lac Tribe
Find out how sturgeon are surveyed and tagged in this video from the Minnesota DNR:
Sturgeon and People
Lake sturgeon, the type of sturgeon found in the St. Louis River and other Great Lakes river systems such as the Mississippi, St. Croix and Chippewa, were once very abundant. Its scientific name is Acipenser fulvescens. Acipenser means “sturgeon” and fulvescens means a “dull yellow color.”
Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Aquarium
Lake sturgeon were so common in the Great Lakes they filled rivers during spawning and were discarded when caught by commercial fishermen. In the mid-1800s, the European taste for the meat caused a rise in demand for sturgeon. In addition to smoked sturgeon, lake sturgeon were used for leather and their swim bladders were used to make isinglass, a high-quality gelatin used for waterproofing, pottery cement and clarifying wine and beer.
The increased harvest, combined with habitat destruction and water pollution, caused their populations to decline rapidly. Today, ongoing projects seek to restore sturgeon populations. Sturgeon numbers are slowly increasing, however, it will take years before their populations rebuild to sustainable levels.
St. Louis River Sturgeon
Sturgeon were plentiful in the St. Louis River until the early 1900s. In addition to over-harvesting, their populations declined from river pollution and dam construction. Efforts to reestablish sturgeon in the St. Louis River began in 1983 with a sturgeon fingerling stocking program by the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources, which lasted until 2001.
To improve sturgeon spawning habitat, rocks and boulders were placed downstream of the Fond du Lac Dam during 2009 by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy.
Sturgeon habitat restoration below the Fond du Lac Dam
Find out more about this restoration project by viewing the following video from the MN DNR:
It’s taken many years, but these efforts have paid off. The oldest of the stocked fish have reached breeding age, and they are spawning in the natural and human-made riffles and pools of the St. Louis River as evidenced by the young sturgeon collected in 2011.
Sturgeon Recovery and River Recovery
Sturgeon recovery is tied to the recovery of the St. Louis River. The river is a designated Area of Concern (AOC). AOCs are places throughout the Great Lakes that were polluted by common past practices of dumping untreated waste on land and water. One of the issues associated with the St. Louis River AOC is degraded fish and wildlife populations. Progress to increase populations of native fish species such as the sturgeon will help address this issue.
The St. Louis River Alliance, a local non-profit organization, is working with many governmental agencies and organizations to protect and restore the river’s environmental quality with the ultimate goal of removing the AOC designation from the St. Louis River.
What You Can Do
There is no open season for lake sturgeon in the Wisconsin and Minnesota waters of the St. Louis River Estuary, so angling for them is prohibited. If you catch a sturgeon while fishing for other legal fish species, you should release it as quickly and gently as possible. The prohibition on angling for sturgeon is likely to continue until the two states determine that the breeding population is at sufficient levels to allow for harvest.
Limited sturgeon fishing is allowed in other locations of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan where sturgeon populations are stable. Check fishing regulations for each state for more information.
Click the image below to take a look at our Lake Sturgeon in the St. Louis River Brochure! (.pdf)
For more information on sturgeon, click here.
This page was produced with a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service