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Scott M

Lake Sturgeon short term population recovery goals met

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Scott M

MN DNR News

April 23, 2012

Lake sturgeon making a comeback on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Section of Fisheries is celebrating a major milestone in the recovery efforts of the lake sturgeon population on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River. According to DNR fisheries biologists, short-term population recovery goals have been met, which is a big step toward full recovery.

“The population is recovering nicely and it’s a testament to a how successful long-term cooperative efforts on international and border waters can be when coupled with strong clean water legislation,” said Phil Talmage, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Baudette.

The lake sturgeon recovery has been a cooperative effort between the Minnesota-Ontario Borders Waters Fisheries Management Committee, which includes fisheries biologists from the DNR northwest and northeast regions and Canada Ministry of Natural Resources.

Since the early 1980s, fisheries biologists in Minnesota and Canada have engaged in cooperative research and management of the fisheries resources along the U.S.-Canada border. Cooperatively, the Border Waters Lake Sturgeon Committee drafted short- and long-term goals for the lake sturgeon population. The underlying objective was to re-establish and then maintain a self-sustaining sturgeon stock in all suitable habitats within the Minnesota–

Ontario border waters. The population goals were based on what would be expected from a lightly exploited population. All of the goals were based on age, size, abundance and brook stock characteristics.

To monitor the recovery, DNR and Canada Ministry of Natural Resources biologists have aggressively surveyed the population. Early efforts included tagging studies to determine lake sturgeon movement. More recently biologists have conducted population estimates and annually monitored spawning locations. Through this cooperative effort, there are now almost 5,000 tagged lake sturgeon that are used to monitor the sustainability of the fishery and ensure this great recovery continues. As a result of this monitoring program, biologists have determined the short-term goals of the plan have been met.

The Lake of the Woods/Rainy River population, like other lake sturgeon populations in Minnesota, has been threatened by the combined effects of past overharvesting, decades of industrial water pollution, and habitat degradation caused by dams that have changed water flows and short-stopped fish migration routes to breeding waters.

Lake sturgeon recovery efforts on Lake of the Woods began in the 1960s when pollution controls were put in place through the U.S. Clean Water Act and reciprocal legislation in Ontario. However, recovery has been gradual because of the low reproductive capacity of this species. The lake sturgeon, sometimes called the living dinosaur of the fish world, can live to more than 100 years of age and weigh more than 200 pounds. It is a long-lived, slow-growing, late-maturing fish. In Lake of the Woods, males do not reach sexual maturity until 17 years old and females until 26 years old. Unlike most fish species, they do not spawn annually.

Due its slow growth and late maturing characteristics, the lake sturgeon is highly susceptible to over harvest. Only under low levels of harvest will a depleted population be able to fully recover.

According to DNR fisheries biologists, during the recovery phase the allowable harvest on this population has been conservative and held to a level that would provide some harvest opportunities while allowing the population to recover at an accelerated pace. The DNR is not anticipating any adjustments in lake sturgeon fishing regulations at this time.

“While our short-term recovery goals have been met, this does not trigger any changes in the management framework,” said Kevin Peterson, DNR area fisheries supervisor in International Falls. “This framework will still include an innovative harvest management tag system, a defined harvest, catch-and-release seasons and a closed season to protect spawning fish.”

Lake sturgeon fishing regulations on the Minnesota side of Lake of the Woods and on all other state waters will remain the same. Anglers can purchase a tag to harvest one lake sturgeon between 45 and 50 inches, or one more than 75 inches per calendar year. Mail-in registration cards are required for anyone wanting to harvest and possess a lake sturgeon. Party fishing for lake sturgeon is illegal. Gaffs may not be used to assist in landing sturgeon.

The spring harvest season on the Rainy River runs from April 24 – May 7. From May 8 to May 15, anglers can fish for lake sturgeon, but must release all fish they catch. The fishing season for lake sturgeon is closed May 16 – June 30. There is a second harvest season that runs July 1 – Sept. 30.

Lake sturgeon fishing regulations are detailed in the Fishing Regulations guide or online.

More information on the lake sturgeon is available online.

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jwmiller33

Awesome news and thanks for sharing. Lake sturgeon and their history always seem to facinate me. They are amazing creatures and a blast to encounter. I only wish there were more places to target them

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davidbigreelz

this is great news and a huge step forward. thanks for sharing.

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gizmoguy

If MN DNR has been working with the Ont. MNR why did thay need to suddenly shut down the fishery on their side of the river even to catch and release fishing 2 years ago. They must be working with the same numbers we have? It must of been someone in an office several hundred miles away that made that determination. Well they had 2 years to come up with a plan for their threatened fishery so maybe next year things will open up again. 5-6 years ago whe hoped to get a sturgeon in the 50's. This year the bulk of the fish were in the 50's. Great job MN DNR! Try not to look like fools MNR.

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harvey lee

Great job to the MN DNR. smile

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Jarnotski

Yes, the recovery has been pretty amazing and provided excellent opportunities for many anglers. While we continue to land some of the largest fish ever, I have noticed, anecdotally of course, boating fewer numbers of fish in the last couple years. Intuitively, this is to be expected and I certainly don't mean to harp on anglers who deciced to take a fish legally - this is their right should they choose. I can't help wonder about post angling mortality for released fish. Maybe this is not an issue. I have fished sturgeon for quite a few years and have seen some of these fish handle rather rough. I do agree that the lake Sturgeon is a rather robust fish and can handle being out of the water for a duration. I would like to know what the effect is of holding a very large sturgeon, 50-90 lbs, vertically by the gills or dropping the fish of the bottom a boat from a few feet up because of the fish's squirmy nature.

As far as numbers of fish goes, I'm guessing we won't see the number of fish we did pre-harvest. I just hope that the DNR has their thumb on the population and does what is best in the interest of the population.

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fiskyknut

I sure don't see alot of Sturgeonfish being harvested? Even back when during the 1 per day with no tag and a more liberal keeper size slot I did'nt see alot kept. There are alot of them now, and there were alot of them in the late 80's and the 90's as well. Caught them pretty regular now and then off the docks way back in the 70's too when I was a kid! Part of the reason we hear of so many and so many larger ones these days is on account of the mass influx of anglers and their web reports. Trust me there was darn good fishing for Sturgeonfish in the mid nineties long before the internet spread the word, before the mass crowds, and all the experts. My 2 largest fish came in '97 though I don't fish them near as much anymore as I did back in the good old days of spring/fall fishing on the Rainy.

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wareagle

gizmoguy,

From what I have heard from my sources, there has been plans by the First Nation bands to build one or two new hydropower facilities on the Canadian side of Rainy Lake and Namakin on some of the best sturgeon spawning grounds. So, I think in a strategic move, the MNR listed 2 of the 3 lake sturgeon populationas as threatened and one as a species of special concern to protect them against the building of these new hydro power facilities. On Oct 15, 2009, lake sturgeon fishing was closed along the Great Lakes and the border waters (See MNR website search lake sturgeon).

I think the MNR are playing it more conservative than we are. Having worked with lake sturgeon on LOW from 2002 - 2006 and learning more about their life history, they walk more of a fine line in regards to habiat loss and over fishing as opposed to some of our other sport fish species. I was very happy to see that we have achieved our short term goals, but we are still 20 - 30 yrs away from meeting our long term goals.

War Eagle!!!

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Akerman

If the sturgeon fishing is this good with the short term goals met, just think what it will be like in another 10 or 20 years!!! My kids will be in sturgeon heaven!

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harvey lee

That's if people do not mess it all up.

Seems that happens so many times.

I hope that the sturg population continues to increase but I do get concerned that we will do something to mess that up.

let's hope not for the sake of the sturg.

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Jarnotski

Well put Harvey. A more blunt way of saying what I was trying to, which I appreciate. Given the life history of these creatures it's obvious it wouldn't be hard to dwindle the population. Unfortunately, I have learned in my years of fishing to enjoy it while it lasts because so many times it doesn't last - atleast the real remarkable fishing. I'm confident we will always be able to cacth sturgeon on the rainy, but for my kids sake I want to be able to catch lots of sturgeon on the rainy.

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