Sturgeon snagged above former Ballville dam is welcome news
Story detailed in the May 24 print edition of Ohio Outdoor News
If you tear it down they will come, to put a twist on a saying made popular by the Kevin Costner classic baseball film, “Field of Dreams.”
What was torn down, in this case, was the infamous Ballville Dam on the scenic Sandusky River at Fremont. The demolition and restoration work was finished last year and runoff now has cut a graceful channel through the former two-mile-long, silt-filled backwater pool.
What came well up into the scenic stream was a three- to-four-foot-long Great Lakes sturgeon.
The big fish, up from Lake Erie via Sandusky Bay, was incidentally snagged by an angler recently at Wolf Creek Park – four miles above the site of the dam that had blocked the stream since 1913. The structure, at 407 feet long and nearly 35 feet high, had been the largest dam left on the Great Lakes.
Fisheries biologists long had blamed the historic placement of dams on Great Lakes streams as one of the major causes of long-term sturgeon decline, for the dams cut off the big fish from critical spawning beds. Now, in just one season, a big sturgeon shows up in the upper Sandusky where none had been seen in perhaps 150 years (other, smaller dams preceded the Ballville structure). You can safely bet it was not the only one.
A full account of the catch (and release) appears in the current issue of Ohio Outdoor News, written by friend and colleague James Proffitt. The news is exciting because it justifies the arguments of the coalition of persistent individuals who battled for more than a decade for dam removal, after it had been declared a “most dangerous” and neglected safety hazard in 2007 by state dam inspectors.
The presence of the sturgeon so far upstream so soon also is exciting because it opens yet another important Lake Erie tributary to sturgeon spawning. The lower 32 miles of the Maumee River to the west, the largest stream on the Great Lakes, also is known sturgeon habitat. A white bass angler caught a five-foot sturgeon in 2000 just below the Grand Rapids Dam, the first modern record and a demonstration that the river could support the fish.
Then just last fall, a project by the Toledo Zoo and state and federal fisheries partners released some 3,000 sturgeon fingerlings into the lower Maumee. It will be years before these latest representatives of this slow-growing, slow-maturing ancient species are able to reproduce. But the ball is rolling.
Perhaps, one day soon, a similar project will be conducted to jump-start a population of sturgeon in the Sandusky River, now that it is open for 22 miles to Tiffin.
Of course, sport anglers are hoping such good fortunes also befall walleye and white bass, the spring spawning runs of which also were blocked by the dam. But for now, for sure, the old sturgeon are leading that way.