June4Have you ever wondered what it was like to walk, or swim, among the dinosaurs? Well, just ask a Lake Sturgeon because they experienced it first-hand.  Lake Sturgeon have existed in freshwater systems for over 150 million years – but where are they now? What once was a population of approximately 1 million in Lake Erie is now down to 100. The University of Toledo, the Toledo Zoo, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources have partnered on a project to reintroduce Lake Sturgeon into the Maumee River, and ultimately boost the population in Lake Erie.  They recognized the need for Lake Sturgeon in our local waterway. The only two rivers in the Great Lakes where sturgeon spawn naturally are in the Detroit River and Niagara River. Otherwise, Lake Sturgeon are being reintroduced through what is called a streamside rearing facility, and that is exactly what their project proposes to do. “The larger picture of this project is to make the Maumee ecologically sound and to restore the balance. This project is one piece of that puzzle.”  A poignant quote from Jessica Sherman, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Toledo and one of the scientists working on the Lake Sturgeon reintroduction. “And Lake Sturgeon are [just] a really cool fish”, Sherman said. They live extremely long lives, up to 150 years, and imprint on the river they were born in. This means that if a Lake Sturgeon is born in the Maumee River, they return to the same Maumee River to reproduce later in life. Lake Sturgeon are also the gentle giant of the Great Lakes, sometimes growing up to 300 pounds and 9 feet in length.  They are gentle because they have no teeth, and are harmless to humans.

Streamside rearing facilities look like small trailers near the river, Sherman said, where scientists hatch and eventually release the baby fish into the water.  Their project, which is awaiting approval for a $90,000 grant, will build a streamside rearing facility behind the Toledo Zoo next to the Maumee River. Sherman said they plan to collect eggs and sperm of Lake Sturgeon in the St. Clair/Detroit River system because it is similar to the Maumee. They will then fertilize and house the fish eggs in the streamside rearing facility, in Maumee River water, with the hopes that the fish then imprint and return to our river to spawn later in life. The Maumee River has the right habitat for Lake Sturgeon, but there haven’t been any fish born here in quite some time, and because of imprinting, no sturgeon have returned. The juvenile fish, once released from the rearing facility, will spend 1 to 5 years in the river and then make their way downstream to Lake Erie.  The fish will mature in the lake until they reach spawning age, 15 years for males and 20 years for females, when they will hopefully return to the Maumee to reproduce. Sherman explained that if the project is successful, the Lake Sturgeon population could be self-sustaining in 20 to 25 years. They hope to raise and release thousands of Lake Sturgeon a year, for several years, in order to reach the healthy population that once was present in Lake Erie and its tributaries.