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For Release: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DEC Advises Anglers to be Aware of Spawning Lake Sturgeon

Lake Sturgeon are a Threatened Species in New York with No Open Season

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today reminded anglers to be aware of spawning lake sturgeon in New York's Great Lakes waters, Great Lakes connecting channels, and in tributaries of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, Finger Lakes and Oneida Lake.

DEC staff receives numerous reports of lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) caught by anglers targeting walleye at this time of year. Lake sturgeon are listed as a threatened species in New York, therefore, there is no open season for the fish and possession is prohibited. It is illegal to target these rare fish and anglers should move away from areas where they are catching them.

Anglers who do unintentionally hook one should follow these practices to ensure that the fish are returned to the water unharmed:

  • avoid bringing the fish into the boat if possible;
  • use pliers to remove the hook; sturgeon are almost always hooked in the mouth;
  • always support the fish horizontally. Do not hold sturgeon in a vertical position by their head, gills or tails;
  • never touch their eyes or gills; and
  • minimize their time out of the water and return them to the water immediately once they are freed from fishing gear.

Lake sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are recovering as a result of protection and stocking efforts by DEC and several partners. Other populations are supported by stocking. Adult sturgeon are captured in the St. Lawrence River and their eggs and sperm are collected by DEC biologists and partners from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the New York Power Authority facilities below the Moses-Saunders Dam. The fertilized eggs are reared in DEC's Oneida Hatchery to a size of about eight inches before stocking.

Since 1996, lake sturgeon have been periodically stocked by DEC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into Black Lake, Cayuga Lake, the Genesee River, Oneida Lake, the Oswegatchie River, Raquette River, St. Lawrence River, St. Regis River and Salmon River in Franklin County. Sturgeon are often tagged as part of ongoing research efforts by state and federal agencies. If you find a tagged sturgeon, please follow the reporting instructions on the tag or contact your regional DEC office for assistance. In New York, visible tags have been placed on lake sturgeon in the Genesee River by the Cortland office of the U.S. Geological Survey and by Cornell University staff from the Shackleton Point research facility on Oneida Lake. Visible tags have also been placed on lake sturgeon in Lake Erie by DEC and the lower Niagara River by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additionally, some sturgeon in these areas have been tagged with large external satellite transmitting tags.

Lake sturgeon are an ancient fish that first appeared during the Upper Cretaceous period 136 million years ago when dinosaurs still walked the earth. Lake Sturgeon are native to the Mississippi River Basin, Great Lakes Basin, and Hudson Bay region of North America. They are the largest fish native to the Great Lakes, growing up to seven or more feet in length and achieving weights of up to 300 pounds. A specimen that was seven feet four inches long and weighed 240 pounds was found near death in Lake Erie in 1998. Lake sturgeon from New York's inland waters are smaller on average and may grow to as much as three to five feet in length and about 80 pounds as adults.

Lake sturgeon feed on the bottom and eat primarily aquatic insects, worms, snails, clams and crayfish. Specimens caught in Oneida Lake have also been found to consume zebra mussels. Larger sturgeon have been found to consume round gobies. Lake sturgeon prefer water depths of 15 to 30 feet and water temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees.

Lake sturgeon were once abundant in New York, but commercial fishing, dam building and habitat loss decimated populations. While sturgeon numbers have improved, their populations are still very low compared to historical levels both in New York and the rest of the Great Lakes states. It is estimated that fishing had removed 80 percent of the sturgeon from Lake Erie by 1900. Their slow rate of maturity and reproduction made them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

For further information, visit DEC's website at the below links:
Lake Sturgeon
Lake Sturgeon Fact Sheet
Endangered & Threatened Fishes of New York
Lake Sturgeon Restoration

Great Lakes Lake Sturgeon Collaboration: (link leaves DEC's website)

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