Sturgeon spearers reach limit, season ends early

Cheboygan, Mich. – Clear water and a healthy sturgeon population
were two reasons why the 2008 Black Lake sturgeon-spearing season
ended early after the quota of five fish was taken in the first
four days.

Last year, no sturgeon were taken during the annual season, but
Tim Cwalinski, a fisheries supervisor with the DNR, said this
year’s sturgeon season – scheduled to run Feb. 7-15 – ended on Feb.
10.

“We had an incident where water clarity got lost last year, so
the reason we didn’t spear any was because we couldn’t see them,”
Cwalinski told Michigan Outdoor News. “This year, we had great
viewing conditions and fish were moving pretty well. It took four
days, which is fairly normal. Some years we reach the goal right
away.”

All sturgeon were taken by spear this year, although
hook-and-line fishing is an option.

Cwalinski said the sturgeon population is greatly improving in
the Cheboygan County lake.

“The poaching of sturgeon in 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s was a main
reason for the decline,” Cwalinski said. “Now, we’re seeing a
growing population. We have reduced the harvest; we have a
streamside hatchery to supplement the harvest; we have a lot of
things in place to help sturgeon populations. It’s just getting
better and better.”

Overall, 629 applicants applied for the 2009 sturgeon lottery on
Black Lake, while 225 anglers were tapped to participate.
Twenty-five permits are issued each day of the nine-day season.

“The quota was met early, so fewer people actually
participated,” Cwalinski said.

Bryan LePage took the largest sturgeon this year, spearing a
tagged female that was 70.5 inches long and weighed 89.5 pounds.
State biologists said the fish was 34 years old.

The other four successful spearers were Claude Tucker, of
Belmont, (83-pound, 67.25-inch fish); Gil Archambo, of Cheboygan
(66 pounds, 64.5 inches); John Bingham (60 pounds, 63 inches); and
Bruce Fielder, of Fenton (35 pounds, 53 inches).

Brenda Archambo, president of the Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon
for Tomorrow, said she’s pleased to see great progress in bringing
back the sturgeon population.

“There was a gap in lake sturgeon management here, so our goal
was to protect fish when they were spawning,” said Archambo, whose
husband, Gil, was one of the five anglers to harvest a sturgeon
this season. “New regulations for sturgeon started in 1999. Prior
to that, the season was for two weeks and you could harvest one per
angler.”

Brenda Archambo said she remembers in 1995, when there was
discussion in the DNR Fisheries Division to close down the sturgeon
harvest, then come back in 10 years for an assessment.

“The locals here thought that was drastic,” Archambo said. “…
Over the course of a couple years, there was a lake survey done to
assess population dynamics. (The DNR) felt there was a decrease in
the population, so they closed down harvesting.”

Archambo said it became apparent that a factor in lower
populations was sturgeon poaching.

“We felt, regardless of policy changes, when sturgeon are
spawning in the river it was easy for poachers,” she said. “We’ve
partnered with the DNR and (Michigan State University) to collect
data since 2000. We’re convinced we’re seeing younger fish
now.”

Archambo said the more than 350 volunteers who put in thousands
of hours each spring to be visible along the stretches of the river
the sturgeon use for spawning, are the main reason for a decline in
poaching.

Meanwhile, to further the sturgeon cause on Black Lake,
Cwalinski said the DNR is scheduled to meet with he Black Lake
Sturgeon Advisory Council to talk about how the season went and
about the upcoming spawning season.

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