AK Sturgeon Lab



World sturgeon supply has been falling since the early 1990s. Whilst supply of wild sturgeon has historically come from the Caspian Sea, since around the time of the collapse of the USSR, control of fisheries in this area has been lost. Overfishing and poaching has meant that stocks have seriously diminished.

Reports state that stocks of Beluga sturgeon, which is considered to produce the highest quality caviar, have fallen 95 per cent over the last 20 years.

There are around 26 species of sturgeon, all in the Northern hemisphere, the majority of which are now endangered.

An effort to help BC sturgeon become self-sustaining is entering a critical phase. Sturgeon were nearly wiped out. In the 1999s, wildlife officials began restocking sturgeon. Those fish are just now reaching the age to reproduce -- but they don't have a good place to do that.

White sturgeon can be found in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. A while back, the University of Vancouver Island began collecting sturgeon from the Fraser River, for educational purposes. In 1999, the University donated a handful of brood stock to the farm, in order for them to focus on rearing and increasing stock numbers of white sturgeon.

Mr Henry said the juveniles given by the University were from a second spawning. In 2000, the first white sturgeon eggs came onto the farm.

"White sturgeon are quite different to other species of fish. Eggs hatch after six days of fertilisation, resulting in very immature fry. This presents a number of challenges when culturing sturgeon," he said.

A lot of research is being carried out, at the University of Vancouver Island and on site, looking at increasing fry and fingerling survival, optimal feeding regimes and feed presentation.

Sturgeon were the biggest fish in Fraser river - reaching up to 100 pounds and several feet long. Individuals could live a century.

They're rather ugly, in an attractive kind of way -- with a shark-like tail, a couple of barbs under the chin and rows of spiny bumps running the length of the fish like an armored skin.

"When you see some of these big fish come up, and they're swimming around and they're just kind of playing around in the rocks up here, it really gives you kind of a neat sense of just what an amazing fish they are, and to think about these, that they lived to be nearly 100 years old," Peterson said.

The species actually is prehistoric, dating back to the days of dinosaurs.

You can find sturgeon in other Minnesota waters, but Lake Superior only has two Minnesota rivers suitable for sturgeon spawning -- the Pigeon, on the Canadian border, and the St. Louis.

There was a time you could hardly fish Lake Superior without catching a sturgeon, but the ancient giants were all but wiped out sometime in the last century. Experts blame over-harvesting, and then damage to the rivers where sturgeon spawn.

"In the logging days there were millions of board feet that got floated down this river, and that really, really did a number on the habitat," said John Lindgren, with the Fisheries Division of the Department of Natural Resources. "That was followed by a lot of industrial abuses too, so the sturgeon population disappeared."

To reproduce, sturgeon need shallow water or pools where a single female may set a dozen male fish into frenzy. It's an elaborate dance with the fish half out of the water that can go on for hours.

The problem is, in the River’s there’s a dams. This time of year the dams is a high wall of water spray and yellowish ice. The dam blocks the sturgeon from reaching the kind of shallow water in the spring, where the male sturgeons like to dance with the ladies.

If there's going to be any spawning going on, it will have to be right at the foot of the dam.

The sturgeon's comeback dates to 2000. In 1999, wildlife officials began introducing sturgeon fingerlings raised in hatchery. Those fingerlings are now over four feet long and coming of age -- young fish looking to hook up.

Peterson said the sturgeon's survival is more than a fish story. It's about restoring parts of an ecosystem.

These fish are slow growing. They're very long lived ... so to bring them back we can really demonstrate that we're improving the habitat quality. We've really improving the water quality in western Lake Superior.

So far, the planted fish have survived well and grown. But the next step is to give the fish an opportunity to reproduce. Once this underwater dance hall is done, it will be time for the fish to tango.

The history of the great fish is dying in front of our eyes. If you are ready to participate in saving and restoring the fish stock, please do so.