Watertown, N.Y. — Lake sturgeon area again being stocked in North Country waters as part of a restoration program for the threatened fish species, DEC Region 6 officials announced.
This restoration effort is being undertaken in collaboration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
More than 10,000 fingerlings – four-month-old, 5- to 8-inch long fish – were released last month into the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries. About 7,000 lake sturgeon were stocked in the St. Lawrence River in
Ogdensburg at the Greenbelt boat launch. The Salmon River, St. Regis River, and Raquette River received a portion of the remaining fingerlings, continuing the St. Lawrence River tributary stocking program which has been ongoing for several years.
Under the restoration program, eggs were collected from mature fish at the New York Power Authority St. Lawrence River Power Dam in Massena this spring. After fertilizing, the eggs were transported to the USFWS fish hatchery in Genoa, Wisc., until they were large enough to be stocked back into the wild.
Some of the fertilized eggs were taken to the DEC’s Oneida hatchery for rearing 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 continues to help reverse population declines that occurred earlier this century,” Region 6 Director Judy Drabicki said. “Previous stocking efforts in tributaries like these in St. Lawrence County have demonstrated success, with dozens of sturgeon ranging up to 48 inches being observed and some having reached maturity, when they are ready to spawn.”
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, the 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.
The effort to increase lake sturgeon populations includes protection from harvest, hatchery rearing, planning, habitat improvement, stocking of fingerlings and outreach and education. DEC is cooperating with federal partners and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, as well as the New York Power Authority in the project.
USFWS and the USGS focus on raising the small fish in hatcheries and evaluating their survival and growth toward maturity. The USFWS New York field office helps support the lake sturgeon restoration program through funding provided from the Fish Enhancement, Mitigation, and Research Fund, a settlement reached with the New York Power Authority for the relicensing of the St. Lawrence Power Project.
The additional sturgeon reared at the DEC hatchery at Oneida Lake were stocked in the Genesee River downstream of Rochester and in Cayuga Lake in early October.
Hatchery fingerlings are produced for bodies of water chosen as having the best prospects for restoration. Officials said 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.