For Release: Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Lake Sturgeon Restoration Continues In North Country
Lake sturgeon continue to be stocked in North Country waters as part of a restoration program for this threatened fish species, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today. The state restoration effort is made possible in collaboration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT), the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
DEC released approximately 6,500 fingerlings (three month old, 3-4-inch long fish) into Lake Ontario's Chaumont Bay and the St. Lawrence River at Ogdensburg on September 9. Earlier in the summer, biologists stocked additional young sturgeon in Sandy Pond at the Oswego and Jefferson County boundary and the St. Lawrence River at Massena.
Under the restoration program, DEC with assistance from the partners collected 130,000 eggs from mature fish at the New York Power Authority's St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project in Massena this past spring. After fertilizing, USFWS transported the eggs to their fish hatchery in Genoa, Wisconsin, and the hatched fish were nourished until they were large enough to be stocked back into the wild. Some of the fertilized eggs were taken to DEC's Oneida Hatchery for hatching, raising and release into other New York waters.
'This magnificent fish species was classified as threatened in New York State nearly 40 years ago, but stocking efforts continue to help reverse population declines that occurred earlier this century," DEC Regional Director Judy Drabicki said. "Previous stocking efforts in major rivers in St. Lawrence County have demonstrated success, with dozens of sturgeon ranging up to 48 inches being observed and some have reached maturity and they are ready to spawn."
As sturgeon populations are reintroduced to their historical niche throughout the state, this multi-agency partnership displays its value. "The Service is excited to be part of a team committed to the restoration of this species through the 10-year stocking plan," explained David Stilwell of the USFWS. "Our joint project will increase genetic diversity and year class strength of sturgeon populations in the restored waters. This effort continues to be an outstanding example of partners collaborating to restore the natural heritage of New York."
"Since the relicensing of the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project, the New York Power Authority has created several Habitat Improvement Projects to improve lake sturgeon spawning opportunities," said Edward Rider, NYPA regional manager-Northern NY. "The four new spawning beds and sturgeon restocking continue to serve as an example of the Power Authority's commitment to promote the repopulation of the species that was once plentiful in the St. Lawrence River."
Lake sturgeon once flourished in waters along New York's northern border and provided large commercial harvests near Buffalo. In 1885, harvests totaled 1,800 tons. Prior to the decline in the sturgeon population, these large fish inhabited all areas of New York's border waters on the west, north and northeast regions of the state, including Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain and in several St. Lawrence River tributaries up to 60 miles upstream.
Activities to increase lake sturgeon populations include: protection from harvest, hatchery rearing, planning, habitat improvement, stocking of fingerlings, and outreach and education. In order to complete all these activities, DEC collaborates with federal partners, and the SRMT and NYPA. USFWS and USGS focus on raising the small fish in hatcheries and evaluating their survival and growth toward maturity then everyone is involved in communicating to the public about our efforts and how to protect the fish. The USFWS - New York Field Office helps support the lake sturgeon restoration program through the Fish Enhancement, Mitigation, and Research Fund (FEMRF), which is funded by NYPA as part of the 2003 relicensing of the St. Lawrence Hydroelectric Power Plant.
There are additional sturgeon being reared at the DEC hatchery at Oneida Lake and USFWS hatchery which will be stocked in October. These include four tributaries to the St. Lawrence River, including Oswegatchie River, Black Lake and St. Regis River, plus the Genesee River downstream of Rochester and into Cayuga and Oneida Lakes.
Hatchery fingerlings are produced for bodies of water chosen as having the best prospects for restoration. One of the signs of program success has been experienced with mature fish being seen in spawning locations in Oneida Lake and the Oswegatchie River, when they are ready to spawn. In addition, small fish have been collected from Oneida Lake that were naturally spawned.
In addition, NYPA has undertaken efforts to promote lake sturgeon restoration by installing two pairs of artificial lake sturgeon spawning beds in the St. Lawrence River near Waddington and Massena, N.Y., during 2007 and 2012, respectively. Since 2008, hundreds of lake sturgeons have been observed with underwater cameras at the Waddington beds. Knowledge gained from these efforts can provide a blueprint for future lake sturgeon spawning beds.
In support of the NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative, this year's budget includes $6 million in NY Works funding to support creating 50 new land and water access projects to connect hunters, anglers, bird watchers and others who enjoy the outdoors to more than 380,000 acres of existing state and easement lands that have not reached their full potential. These 50 new access projects include building new boat launches, installing new hunting blinds and building new trails and parking areas. In addition, the 2014-15 budget includes $4 million to repair the state's fish hatcheries; and renews and allows expanded use of crossbows for hunting in New York State.
Inquiries about this threatened fish restoration program and other similar projects can be directed to DEC, Bureau of Fisheries in Watertown, at (315) 785-2263. Additional information on lake sturgeon can be found on DEC's website.