F-53-R, Michigan New Study Study 491 1997-98 491. Name of Study




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F-53-R, Michigan New Study

Study 491 1997-98

491. Name of Study: Evaluation of lake sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens populations in the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair, Michigan.
Cooperators: Jerry McClain, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Alpena Fisheries Resource Office, Alpena, Michigan
Tom Edsall, United States Geologic Survey, Bureau of Resource Development, Great Lakes Science Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
A. Problem: The lake sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens has been extirpated from much of its former range in the Great Lakes and is currently listed as a threatened species by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). Impediments to reestablishment of the species to its former range and abundance in Michigan are varied and include 1) a lack of knowledge of the species’ historical distribution and abundance, 2) a lack of knowledge of the species’ current distribution and abundance, 3) habitat alteration and fragmentation, and 4) a lack of basic knowledge of the species biology and habitat requirements, particularly its early life history.
B. Objectives:

(1) Determine spawning period, areal distribution of spawning activity, and characterize spawning habitat in the St. Clair River.

(2) Determine early (juvenile) life history of lake sturgeon in the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair and identify habitat requirements of young lake sturgeon.

(3) Document lake sturgeon population parameters for Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River, including estimated abundance, exploitation, age composition, growth rate, and age/sex composition of the spawning stock.


C. Justification: Lake sturgeon were once abundant in all of the Great Lakes and were also an important component of the early commercial fishery in Michigan (Harkness and Dymond 1961; Tody 1974). Prior to European settlement of Michigan, lake sturgeon provided subsistence to at least one Native American tribe in the Upper Peninsula (Schoolcraft 1953). However, a number of factors led to a dramatic decline in lake sturgeon abundance in the Great Lakes during the late 1800s. This decline led to a closure of the commercial fishery for lake sturgeon in Michigan waters of the Great Lakes by 1929 and a restrictive Michigan sport fishing limit of one fish over 50 inches per season (Lake Sturgeon Draft Management Plan, DNR Lake Sturgeon Committee). Factors contributing to the initial decline of lake sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes include overfishing, habitat destruction, and habitat fragmentation (Harkness and Dymond 1961). Most remaining lake sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes basin are now restricted in movement by water-level control structures, navigation locks, or hydroelectric dams.
Other factors potentially impeding recovery of lake sturgeon are associated with exotic species and a lack of information concerning the species biology, particularly its early life history. Sea lamprey Petromyzon marinus predation as well as lamprey control methods may be affecting river spawning stocks of Great Lakes sturgeon. Increasing our knowledge about the early life history of lake sturgeon is important since young lake sturgeon are susceptible to TFM, the chemical compound most commonly used to control sea lamprey in Michigan streams. Data indicate lake sturgeon are more susceptible to TFM than most other fish species (Johnson et al. 1995). Other sea lamprey control methods which may be impairing lake sturgeon recovery efforts are installation of weirs (electric weirs, low head dams) that may prevent lake sturgeon from ascending spawning rivers. Another exotic species, the round goby Neogobius melanostomus has attained high population densities in the St. Clair River since 1992. This species has subsequently been collected from lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan. In Europe, the diet of the round goby includes molluscs, crustaceans, small fish, and fish eggs (Miller 1986). The aggressive and benthic nature of this species raises concern that predation on lake sturgeon eggs and larvae could be a problem in the St. Clair River spawning grounds as well as in other sturgeon spawning locations in the Great Lakes.
The only large scale tagging effort of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes has been for a single population spawning in the Sturgeon River, Michigan (Houghton and Baraga Counties) in the Lake Superior watershed (Auer 1995). This study has provided valuable information concerning movement of lake sturgeon in Lake Superior and the size of the adult spawning stock. A tagging study of adult lake sturgeon in the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair will elicit similar information for a free-ranging lake sturgeon stock spawning in a Great Lakes connecting water. Such information is crucial to the restoration and management of lake sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes. This tagging effort will provide information on lake sturgeon movements in Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and connecting waters through return of tag information from fish caught by sport anglers, commercial fishing, and research gear. Tag returns may also provide insight into the fidelity of spawning sturgeon to specific locations in the St. Clair River, as well as the size of the adult spawning stock.



  1. Status: Lake sturgeon are present in lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron, St. Clair, Erie, and Ontario, but current abundance of lake sturgeon is estimated to represent less than 1% of their historical abundance (Lake Sturgeon Draft Management Plan, DNR Lake Sturgeon Committee). Although lake sturgeon support both recreational and commercial fisheries in Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair, knowledge regarding their population size and structure is sparse. General descriptions of lake sturgeon spawning behavior and spawning areas in the St. Clair River have been previously reported (Baker 1980). However, detailed location data and spawning habitat descriptions are lacking. Protection of critical spawning habitat in the St. Clair River from permanent human disruption would be enhanced by finer resolution descriptions of the spawning locations.

Recent University of Michigan (UM) and MDNR research surveys on the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair have produced numerous juvenile and adult lake sturgeon. In 1990, longline and angling conducted by UM captured 23 juvenile lake sturgeon 10-20 inches in length. In 1996, pilot sampling in the St. Clair River caught 7 adult sturgeon. Bottom trawling in Lake St. Clair during the summer of 1996 produced a total of 74 lake sturgeon ranging from under 20 inches to over 65 inches in total length. However, since 1993, only one lake sturgeon under 15 inches long has been captured during research surveys on Lake St. Clair. It is possible that sturgeon spawning success in recent years has diminished.


Considerable information has been collected concerning lake sturgeon spawning biology and adult habitat requirements (Roussow 1957; Harkness and Dymond 1961; Scott and Crossman 1973; Hay-Chmielewski 1987; Houston 1987; LaHaye et al. 1992; Lyons and Kempinger 1992; Fortin et al 1993, Auer 1995). Lake sturgeon are known to ascend rivers in the spring to spawn over large, clean substrates. Spawning occurs at water temperatures from 11-22o C, hatching takes approximately 3-12 days, and the yolk-sac is absorbed after approximately 18 days. Larval lake sturgeon drift downstream after hatching and have been observed drifting up to 43 km from a known spawning area (N. Auer, unpublished data). Data collected by LaHaye et al. (1992) indicate lake sturgeon drift until they reach a length of approximately 20 mm and then begin active feeding. However, information on early life history of lake sturgeon is scarce, particularly for post-larval fish. Also, evidence from the Lake Winnebago system in Wisconsin suggests lake sturgeon repeatedly return to the same spawning grounds during spawning runs (Lyons and Kempinger 1992). However, no attempt has been made to evaluate homing for St. Clair River lake sturgeon populations.
Genetic studies underway at Ohio State University indicate a high degree of genetic diversity among remnant sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes. Tissue samples provided to OSU from MDNR St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair sturgeon differed considerably from Lake Erie and southern Lake Huron samples (Porter 1995). Lake St. Clair sturgeon exhibited an unusually high degree of genetic diversity, suggesting reproductive isolation from the southern Lake Huron and Lake Erie stocks.
A second sturgeon study has been proposed for the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair. This study would focus on telemetry tagging and tracking of juvenile and adult sturgeon. If funding for the telemetry study is obtained, it would provide improved insight into sturgeon spawning behavior and movements within the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair. Tracking adult fish with telemetry would allow finer resolution of spawning locations, and possible fidelity to specific spawning sites. Tracking individual juveniles would enable us to identify juvenile distribution and habitat requirements in the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair.
Lake sturgeon are successfully reproducing in several Great Lakes tributaries, in the St. Clair River, and also in tributaries to inland lakes with self-sustaining populations. While few free-ranging Great Lakes sturgeon populations remain, study of these populations is crucial in defining range and habitat preferences for the species (Auer 1996). The St. Clair River/Lake St.Clair population offers a unique opportunity to document spawning and juvenile habitat requirements for free-ranging lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes and connecting waters. Since lake sturgeon are thought to be successfully reproducing in the St. Clair River, it is an ideal site for studying the spawning and juvenile components of the species’ life history.

Literature Cited:
Auer, N.A. 1996. Importance of habitat and migration to sturgeons with emphasis on lake sturgeon. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 53(Suppl. 1):152-160.
Auer, N. A. 1995. Life history strategy of lake sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens in the Sturgeon River-Southern Lake Superior ecosystem. Doctoral Dissertation, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI.
Baker, J. P. 1980. The distribution, ecology, and management of the lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens Rafinesque) in Michigan. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Research Report 1883, Ann Arbor.
Fortin, R., J.R. Mongeau, G. Desjardins, and P. Dumont. 1993. Movements and biological statistics of lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) populations from the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River system, Quebec. Canadian Journal of Zoology 71:638-650.
Harkness, W. J. K., and J. R. Dymond. 1961. The lake sturgeon: the history of its fishery and problems of conservation. Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Toronto.
Hay-Chmielewski, E. M. 1987. Habitat preferences and movement patterns of the lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in Black Lake Michigan. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Research Report 1949, Ann Arbor.
Houston, J. J. 1987. Status of the lake sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 101(2):171-185.
Johnson, D. A., J. W. Weisser, and T. D. Bills. 1995. Sensitivity of lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) to the lampricide 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol (TFM) in field and laboratory exposures. Draft Report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marquette, MI 14 p.
LaHaye, M., A. Branchaud, M. Gendron, R. Verdon, and R. Jortin. 1992. Reproduction, early life history, and characteristics of the spawning grounds of the lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in Des Prairies and L’Assomption rivers, near Montreal, Quebec. Canadian Journal of Zoology 70(9):1681-1689.
Lyons, J., and J. J. Kempinger. 1992. Movements of adult lake sturgeon in the Lake Winnebago system. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Research Report 156.
MacCallum, W. R., S. T. Schram, and R. G. Schorfhaar. 1994. Other species. Pages 63-76 in M. J. Hansen editor, The state of Lake Superior in 1992. Great Lakes Fishery Commission Special Publication 94-1.
Miller, P.J. 1986. Gobiidae. Pages 1019-1095 in P.J.P. Whitehead, M.L. Bauchot, J.L. Hureau, J. Nielsen, and E. Tortonese (eds), Fishes of the North-east Atlantic and Mediterranean. UNESCO, Paris.
Porter, B. 1995. The genetic status of lake sturgeon in Lake Erie and other populations across the Laurentian Great Lakes. Grant No. NBSCF-95-05 Final Report, Contribution No. 1, Ohio State University, Museum of Zoology, Fish Division, Columbus.
Roussow, G. 1957. Some considerations concerning sturgeon spawning periodicity. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 14(4):553-572.
Schoolcraft, H. R. 1953. Quoted in M. L. Williams, editor, Narrative journal of travels through the Northwestern regions of the United States extending from Detroit through the great chain of American lakes to the sources of the Mississippi River in the year 1820. The Michigan State College Press, East Lansing, MI.
Scott, W. B., and E. J. Crossman. 1973. Freshwater fishes of Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada Bulletin 184.
Tody, W. H. 1974. Whitefish, sturgeon, and the early Michigan commercial fishery. Pages 45-60 in Michigan Fisheries Centennial Report 1873-1973. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Management Report 6, Lansing.


  1. Procedure: We will study the post-larval life history of lake sturgeon, including habitat use, growth, and spawning in the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair. We will sample adult and juvenile lake sturgeon with bottom trawls, set lines, and trap nets. We will document specific spawning locations in the St. Clair river based on catches of spawning adult sturgeon and visual observations by remote video and side-scan sonar. We will characterize the spawning habitat used by lake sturgeon in the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair using a variety of gear including remote underwater video, side-scan sonar, and acoustic doppler current profiler.

We will collect biological data from juvenile and adult lake sturgeon including length and weight as well as age and sex when possible. All sturgeon exceeding 15 inches in total length will be tagged with monel opercular tags to study movement, exploitation, and fidelity to spawning locations.


This study will be a cooperative effort between MDNR, USFWS Alpena Fisheries Resource Office, and USGS-BRD Great Lakes Science Center. USFWS staff at the Alpena Fisheries Resource Office will coordinate tag return data collection with other fisheries research agencies and commercial fishing operations on lakes Huron and Erie. USGS staff at the Great Lakes Science Center will characterize spawning habitat using remote underwater video, side-scan sonar, and acoustic doppler current profiler.
Job 1. Collect biological data and tag juvenile and adult sturgeon with monel tags in the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair.
Job 2. Characterize adult spawning habitat and juvenile habitat, based on catch distribution, using underwater video, sidescan sonar, doppler flow meter, temperature and oxygen profiles.
Job 3. Collect and analyze tag recovery data.
Job 4. Analyze data and prepare annual performance report and final report.

F. Schedule:
Year
1997-98 Job 1. Collect biological data and tag sturgeon with monel tags.

Job 2. Characterize spawning and juvenile habitat.

Job 3. Collect and analyze tag recovery data.

Job 4. Prepare annual performance report.


1998-99 Job 1. Collect biological data and tag sturgeon with monel tags.

Job 2. Characterize spawning and juvenile habitat.

Job 3. Collect and analyze tag recovery data.

Job 4. Prepare annual performance report.


1999-2000 Job 1. Collect biological data and tag sturgeon with monel tags.

Job 2. Characterize spawning and juvenile habitat.

Job 3. Collect and analyze tag recovery data.

Job 4. Prepare annual performance report.


2000-01 Job 1. Collect biological data and tag sturgeon with monel tags.

Job 2. Characterize spawning and juvenile habitat.

Job 3. Collect and analyze tag recovery data.

Job 4. Prepare annual performance report.


2001-02 Job 1. Collect biological data and tag sturgeon with monel tags.

Job 2. Collect and analyze tag recovery data.

Job 4. Analyze data and prepare final report.
G. Geographic Location: Sampling sites are located in southeast Michigan at the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair. Data analysis will take place at the Mt. Clemens Fisheries Station and USGS Great Lakes Science Center.
H. Personnel: Co-principal investigators will be Michael Thomas and Robert Haas (Fisheries Research Biologists, Mt. Clemens).

I. Estimated Budget:

1997-98 1998-99 1999-2000 2000-01

Mt. Clemens

-Research vessel operation $18,000 $19,800 $21,780 $23,958

-Tag data entry and analysis $2,000 $2,200 $2,420 $2,662

-Analyze data and report $1,000 $1,100 $1,210 $1,331



Total $21,000 $23,100 $25,410 $27,951

2001-02


Mt. Clemens

-Research vessel operation $26,354

-Tag data entry and analysis $2,000

-Analyze data and report $2,000


Total $30,354



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