Lake Sturgeon Restocking Program Considered

There is a freshwater fish of such magnificent proportions that even the block busting gargantuan Godzilla would bow in complete and utter appreciation—before devouring it. This prehistoric leftover is the lake sturgeon, an ancient and primitive-looking fish with a cartilage skeleton and a shark-like tail. The lake sturgeon appearance has hardly changed since it first evolved in the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago.

Lake sturgeon are gray or olive-brown with a torpedo-shaped body covered with bony plates. There are four barbels on the underside of their beak-like snout. This paints a grizzly looking portrait. Adult sturgeons are typically three to five feet in length and normally weigh between 10 and 80 pounds. However, lake sturgeons are often capable of exceeding these sizes. The largest lake sturgeon captured in North America weighed over 300 pounds and the oldest one on record was 154 years-old. Lake sturgeons are very slow growing. They generally do not reach sexual maturity until they are 12 to 20 years old. Lake sturgeons in Vermont are confined to Lake Champlain and are currently listed as a state endangered species. Lake Champlain supported a small commercial fishery that harvested 50 to 200 sturgeons annually in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Annual harvest declined rapidly in the late 1940’s and the fishery closed in 1967. The decline has been attributed to over fishing and habitat loss in the rivers that were used as spawning and nursery grounds. Historic spawning grounds were found in the Missisquoi, Lamoille and Winooski Rivers as well as Otter Creek.

In 1994, the Lake Champlain Management Conference funded a study on the feasibility of restoring lake sturgeon to Lake Champlain. The study concluded that suitable sturgeon habitat still exists in Lake Champlain but that the likelihood of achieving restoration through the natural reproduction of existing sturgeon populations was extremely small. The study group recommended stocking strategies if a restoration program were to be adopted. Lake Sturgeon Restocking Program Considered In 1995, however, a review group of representatives from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Vermont recommended that a survey of the existing adult population be conducted before deciding whether or not to stock sturgeon from other lakes into Lake Champlain. Information collected from a survey of adult sturgeon at spawning locations in Lake Champlain tributaries is needed to determine both the need for stocking and whether or not the existing lake sturgeon population could be used for a stocking program if one is implemented. Lake Sturgeon Restocking Program Considered Vermont Fish and Wildlife personnel participated in an ongoing lake sturgeon-sampling program in Quebec on the St. Lawrence River during the spring of 1995. This program was implemented to gain experience in proper capture and handling techniques before beginning a sampling program for spawning sturgeon at historic sites in the tributaries of Lake Champlain. Currently, a work plan is being developed for sampling spawning sites beginning in the spring of 1998.The department is committed to restoring a more abundant, naturally reproducing sturgeon population in Lake Champlain.