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For Release: Monday, October 15, 2018

DEC Stocks Lake Sturgeon into Upstate Waters

State's Multi-Year Effort to Restore Threatened Species Showing Success

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos announced today that fisheries staff are busily stocking state-threatened lake sturgeon into several New York waters this month. The stocking effort is designed to help restore this threatened species.

Commissioner Seggos said, "DEC's biologists and technicians are releasing sturgeon into waters these fish historically inhabited. Working with our local and federal partners, New York is bringing sturgeon back. I am proud of our hatchery employees and the work they do and happy to report that the project is successful."

Approximately 14,500 lake sturgeon are being stocked this month. These fish were raised from eggs taken on the New York Power Authority property at the Moses-Saunders Power Project at Massena, NY, and raised at DEC's Oneida Hatchery in Constantia. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey were also involved in the egg take. Some of the eggs were taken to the Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Genoa, WI, where they were hatched, and the young sturgeon reared there are now returning to New York waters.

Some of the fish to be stocked are being tagged for future identification. Passive Integrated Transponder tags ("PIT tags") are inserted under the skin into juvenile sturgeon. These are unique identifier tags like the ones placed in pets. They allow fishery biologists to identify individual fish over time as they are encountered in future sampling.

October stocking efforts bring to fruition a cooperative, multi-year project. DEC has been actively working with federal, tribal, and university partners on protecting and restoring lake sturgeon throughout New York for more than 20 years. Beginning in 1993, DEC reared small numbers of eggs at the Oneida Hatchery. In 1995, nearly 18,000 fish were raised to six inches in size at the Oneida hatchery and released into Oneida, Cayuga, and Black lakes and the Grasse and upper Oswegatchie rivers. Hatchery fish were stocked in most years from 1995 to 2006, in these and other locations.

Once abundant in the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, and adjacent watersheds, lake sturgeon populations declined precipitously due to overharvest, declining water quality, and the placement of dams that restricted movement to spawning grounds. Efforts to clean up Great Lakes waters have been successful to date and sturgeon populations are now on the rise.

Sturgeon harvest in the Great Lakes peaked in 1885. Lake sturgeon were prized for their eggs as caviar and the meat was smoked. The swim bladder organ of sturgeon was used to make isinglass, a gelatin used in brewing beer and wine. An ancient species that first appeared in the fossil record when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, lake sturgeon are native to the Mississippi River Basin, Great Lakes Basin, and Hudson Bay region of North America. Primitive in appearance, lake sturgeon have torpedo-shaped bodies covered with five rows of bony plates called "scutes." They are the largest fish native to the Great Lakes, growing to seven or more feet in length and weighing up to 300 pounds. A specimen that was 7 ft. 4 in. long, weighing 240 pounds, was found in Lake Erie in 1998.

Lake sturgeon from New York's inland waters are smaller on average and may grow to as much three to five feet in length and 80 pounds as adults. These fish 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 also been found to consume round gobies.

One thousand sturgeon averaging about six inches long will be stocked into the following waters: Black Lake; Oswegatchie River; St. Regis River; Raquette River; Salmon River; and Genesee River. Approximately 500 lake sturgeon will be stocked in Oneida Lake and the St. Lawrence River at Massena. Two-thousand-five-hundred fish will be stocked into Chaumont Bay, Cayuga Lake, and the St. Lawrence River at Ogdensburg.

While DEC and partners have discovered gravid or egg-bearing females and young fish in previously stocked locations, DEC will continue propagation of lake sturgeon through 2024. Low levels of stocking are continuing to enhance the genetic structure of previously stocked populations. Sturgeon are infrequent spawners and use the same gravel and cobble beds as do walleye. They congregate in tributary streams in late May to mid-June. Only about 10 percent of the population spawns in any given year. Males reach maturity at about age 15, and spawn only every second or third year. Females mature at about 20 years of age and spawn only every four to seven years.

Bottom fishing with worms is likely to attract sturgeon, so that practice should be avoided in sturgeon waters. If an angler accidentally hooks a sturgeon, they should release it as quickly as possible and try not to remove it from the water. Always support its full weight across its abdomen; do NOT hang it by the gills or tail. Do not touch its gills or eyes.

For more information on lake sturgeon, visit DEC's website.

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