Sturgeon once virtually clogged the waterways of Turtle Island, until in the late 1800s when overfishing nearly sent them the way of the dinosaurs, with whom they may have once shared the planet.
But biologists last month found indications that the great “king of fish,” whose existence dates back millions upon millions of years, may be spawning once again in the St. Louis River. While conducting an unrelated study on the river, biologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found a 24-inch river sturgeon in a gill net, department fisheries specialist John Lindgren told the Duluth News-Tribune. This puts it at seven to eight years old, which means it was born after the last time fingerling sturgeon were stocked in the river, in 2000—making this fish’s existence more likely to be from natural adult-sturgeon reproduction, Lindgren said.
“Almost certainly, it’s a naturally recruited fish,” Lindgren told the Duluth News-Tribune. “We’d like to see a few more. We’d like to see far more of these young fish than we are.”
Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa fisheries biologist Brian Borkholder concurred, saying that although sturgeon seem to come and go in the river, the ones that do so have until now been adults.
Environmental officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin have been working to restock the river, and to restore habitat, the latter in a 2009 project in collaboration with the Fond du Lac Band, the News-Tribune said. But given that it takes 20 to 25 years for a fish to reach reproduction age, the timetable is long and the results not immediately evident.
Evidence of sturgeon resurgence has been seen elsewhere in the region as well. In western New York State, experts are studying an apparent resurgence of lake sturgeon, the species common to those waters.
"Their growth is higher than other populations, it seems like there's an abundance of food available for them, so they're fatter, they're bigger at a certain age, and so, we're learning a lot about how a population recovers," U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service biologist Dimitry Gorsky told NBC News affiliate WGRZ in June. This is especially apparent in the Lower Niagara River, he said.
Elsewhere in the U.S., tribes are working to restore other species of the great fish, such as the unique program being conducted by the Kootenai.