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Annual lake sturgeon guarding program to begin to protect vulnerable, long-lived fish

An MSU researcher tagging a lake sturgeon
courtesy Sturgeon for Tomorrow
An MSU researcher tagging a lake sturgeon

It's nearly time for the yearly all-hands-on-deck effort to protect a fragile population of lake sturgeon.

Lake sturgeon in Black Lake in Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties travel up the Black River to spawn in shallow waters at the base of Tower Dam from mid-April to late May.

Tim Cwalinski is with the state Department of Natural Resources. He says poaching during this time used to be a big problem.

That's before the volunteer Sturgeon Guarding Program began 20 years ago.

"We can't have a DNR law enforcement officer walking up and down the river day and night, so Sturgeon for Tomorrow organizes volunteers that just literally camp on some bluffs above the river, protecting the fish against any unwanted activity.," said Cwalinski. "If you're gonna be fool enough to be a poacher coming through that area with lights flashing at night, you'd have to pretty much go by them, and you'd have to be really foolish to do so."

Lake sturgeon are a threatened species in Michigan. They can live 100 years or more, and grow to a massive size.

Cwalinski says MSU researchers and DNR officers will tag the adult sturgeon in the spawning area, as well as collect some of the eggs they lay that drift down the river. Those eggs will be hatched in the Black River hatchery, and the young fish, called fingerlings, will be released when they are large enough to better evade predators, in late summer to early fall.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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