2What are Lake Sturgeon? Cartilaginous (nearly boneless) fish Row of bony scutes on side and top of bodyShark-like tail and sucker-like mouthUnique barbels (whiskers) located in front of the mouth used as sensory organs.Most fish like largemouth bass and catfish have bony skeletons.Lake sturgeons have several characteristics that identify them from other fish:*Sturgeons are like sharks in that they have skeletons made of cartilage.*Sturgeons have sharp bony plates called scutes along their back and sides.As a sturgeon gets older, these scutes get smoother and become barely visible.*Sturgeons have a shark-like tail (heterocercal tail) that is connected to a backbone made of cartilage.*Sturgeons have sucker-like mouths with four barbels located just in front of the mouth. These barbels look like whiskers and are sensory organs that help in the location of food.Young lake sturgeons have very pointed snouts that become blunter and shorter with age.Older lake sturgeons are slate-blue to olive brown in color with yellow-white bellies while young lake sturgeon are light in color and have dark blotches on sides and snouts.Four barbelsShark-like tailBony plates
3Lake Sturgeon. Historic Distribution (green) Lake Sturgeon Historic Distribution (green) Historic GA Distribution (yellow) Current Distribution (red)In North America, the lake sturgeon ranged from Canada, throughout the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Mississippi Valley down to the Coosa Basin in northwest Georgia, but its current population numbers less than 1% of the its pre-1900 size.The lake sturgeon is considered rare and good reproducing populations are limited to the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes region.Pollution, over fishing, and habitat loss contributed to the decline of the lake sturgeon.
4History Ancient species dating to dinosaur era. Before 1860, considered a trash fish. Sturgeon were dried and used as firewood or feed for pigs.After 1860, interest in caviar and smoked filets lead to over harvest.Populations have never recovered.Nationwide - current population is less than 1% of former abundance.The ancestors of this ancient species made their appearance about 100 million years ago.Prior to 1860, Lake Sturgeon were considered a trash fish. Sturgeon were even dried and used as firewood or feed for pigs.After 1860, increased interest in caviar and smoked filets led to their over harvest. Caviar is made from fresh sturgeon eggs which are cleaned and preserved with a salt brine solution. The eggs are placed in the brine solution from one to four weeks before being rinsed and packaged.In 1895, Lake Erie’s harvest of caviar was over 5 million pounds but less than 100,000 pounds by 1905.Their sturgeon population has never recovered.Nationwide, the current population is less than 1% of the sturgeon’s former abundance.
5Georgia Lake Sturgeon Entirely freshwater. Historic range limited to Coosa River System.Threatened speciesLives years.Typically reaches up to 6-feet in length and 200 pounds.Lake Sturgeon are entirely freshwater.Based on collection records and interviews with anglers, the historical range of the lake sturgeon in Georgia included the Etowah, Oostanaula, Coosawattee, and Coosa rivers.In Alabama, the lake sturgeon was found downstream in the Coosa River to near Childersburg. The lake sturgeon disappeared from the Coosa River basin in the late 1960’s.This threatened species can live over 150 years. Lake sturgeon typically reach up to 6-feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds.The largest lake sturgeon on record was almost eight feet long and weighed over 300 pounds.
6Food HabitsFeeds on the bottom using the four barbels under its snout to taste & feel its food.Opportunistic feeders that prefer soft-bodied organisms (worms, insect larvae, mollusks, etc.).A lake sturgeon’s mouth is located on the underside of the head.The mouth is sucker-like and extendible which allows the fish to vacuum food items off the bottom of lakes and streams.The lake sturgeon does not have sharp teeth. Rather, the teeth are made for crushing and grinding food items.This photo shows a good view of the four barbels, located just in front of the mouth, that are sensory organs and help in the location of food.
7Reproduction Spring spawners (53o-58o F). Spawn in rocky areas near strong currents.Eggs adhere to rocky substrate.Females first spawn at years of age and spawn once every 4-9 years.Males mature earlier and spawn every 1-2 yearsLikely to mature faster in Georgia’s climate.Lake sturgeon migrate to their spawning grounds between April and June. They prefer to spawn in shallow, rocky areas along river banks in water temperatures ranging from degrees F.Spawning occurs when the female is joined by a group of about six to eight males.The sturgeon will swim against the current, thrashing their tails, while releasing milt (sperm) and eggs.A female can release anywhere from 50,000 to 700,000 eggs depending on size and age.The eggs cling to rocks and other solid material until they hatch in five to eight days.At first, a Lake Sturgeon will grow rapidly (up to three feet in five years) but growth slows as the fish gets older.Females first spawn at years of age and spawn once every 4-9 years while males mature earlier and spawn every 1-2 years.Lake Sturgeon are likely to mature faster in Georgia’s warm climate.
8Spawning Female Sturgeon The female sturgeon in this photo was caught during its spawning run into a Michigan river.
9Current Lake Sturgeon Management Goals Re-establish a native speciesto the Coosa River system.Establish a fishable populationContribute to conservation efforts in North America.The WRD has three goals for the Lake Sturgeon:* To re-establish a native species to the Coosa River System* Establish a population of lake sturgeon that can support sport fishing* Contribute to the national effort of preserving the species.Under current Georgia regulations, lake sturgeon cannot be harvested and must be released immediately.If a lake sturgeon is accidentally caught, it should be released while still in the water.
10Reintroduction Considerations Does the original Coosa River population still exist (loss of genetic integrity)?Will restoration impact other species (particularly endangered species)?WRD considered several things before stocking Lake Sturgeon into the Coosa River.First, do any native Lake Sturgeon still live in the Coosa River? If so, biologists would prefer to use native fish in the restoration effort.Second, will stocked Lake Sturgeon impact other native aquatic species such as endangered mussels that live in the Coosa River?
11Do the original fish still exist? Scientific publicationslist the fish as “extirpated”.Last verified Lake Sturgeonfrom the Coosa River system was early 1960’s.WRD did not find any recent evidence that Lake Sturgeon still exist in the system.Therefore, WRD believes that Lake Sturgeon are extirpated from the River. Extirpated is when a species disappears or is eliminated from a specific portion of its range. Extinct is when a species no longer exists anywhere.The lake sturgeon disappeared from the Coosa River System in the 1960’s but are still found in other parts of North America.
121997 Campaign Poster Used to find anglers who might verify the presenceof sturgeon.To help answer the question if Lake Sturgeon occurred in the Coosa River, this poster was used in 1997 to encourage anglers to report any evidence.
13Will they impact other species? Co-existed withCoosa River speciesin the past.Unlikely to target any specific food source given their opportunistic feeding style.Overpopulation potential is extremely low due to infrequent spawning and late maturity.Will Lake Sturgeon impact other species?Because they co-existed with other Coosa River species in the past and are unlikely to target any specific food source given their opportunistic feeding style, the potential for overpopulation is extremely low due to infrequent spawning and late maturity.Since there appeared to be no problems with stocking lake sturgeon into the Coosa River system, it was decided to begin restoration efforts in 2002.
14Reintroduction Plan Stock 4-6 inch fingerlings starting fall 2002. Continue stocking for at least 20 years.Mark fish to track individual stockings.Monitor stocking success using a variety of methods including radio telemetry.Protective regulation.Since there appeared to be no problems with stocking lake sturgeon into the Coosa River system, it was decided to begin restoration efforts in 2002.The reintroduction plan consisted of the following steps:* release a minimum of 9, ” fingerlings into the Coosa River system in the Fall of each year (80 fingerlings per stream mile).* continue re-stocking efforts for at least 20 years.* mark the sturgeon so that individual stockings can be tracked.* use radio telemetry as well as other methods for monitoring the success of the stockings.* use protective regulations to help protect the young sturgeon.
15Rearing at WRD Summerville Fish Hatchery Receive eggs from Wisconsin.Grow to 4-6 inches.Cooperative studies with UGAto refine rearing techniques.Beginning in 2002, after about a 35-year absence of Lake Sturgeon in the Coosa River System, the WRD began their reintroduction efforts.For the next twenty years, the restoration effort will involve the following procedure:* Each year, the yearly cycle begins by receiving 40,000 eggs provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in March.* These eggs are hatched and reared to fingerlings at the Georgia Wildlife Resource Division’s Summerville Hatchery.* After eggs hatch, young sturgeon are fed brine shrimp.* As the sturgeon grow, they are switched to a combination of natural foods (worms, copepods) and commercial fish feeds.* The sturgeon are released when they are 4-6 inches long.4 to 6 inch sturgeonin hatchery trough.Sturgeon eggs in hatching jar.
16Sturgeon Release Released August through December. Release sites on the Coosawattee, Etowah, and Oostanaula Rivers.Calhoun and Armuchee Elementary Schools (Rome) involved.The 4-6” Lake Sturgeon are released during the months of August through December into the Coosa River System.The Coosa River System includes the Coosawattee, Etowah and Oostanaula riversIn October 2002, elementary school children from Armuchee (Floyd County) and the City of Calhoun helped release 1,127 lake sturgeon into the Oostanaula River.Involvement of elementary students is part of educational outreach. Hopefully, when these students are adults they will see adult sturgeon in this river system once again.
17Monitoring the Lake Sturgeon Wire Tagging and Radio Telemetry are methods used to help monitor released Lake SturgeonThe 2002 releases appeared to be successful as anglers in the summer of 2003 reported seeing lake sturgeon 12 to 15 inches long.In 2003, release points were expanded to include the Etowah and Coosawattee Rivers. In 2004, researchers from the University of Georgia, Warnell School of Forest Resources began population assessments and radio telemetry studies to evaluate introduction success, determine seasonal movements, and identify habitat critical to the lake sturgeon.
18Public Education Efforts Media releases.Signs at public areas.Public meetings.Presentations to interested groups.Educational outreach.Education is critical for the success of the restoration effort. Media releases, signage, public meetings, presentations and educational outreach are all methods used to get out information to the public.Citizens can help by reporting sightings of live, dead, or accidentally caught sturgeon.Other educational outreach includes identification cards distributed to anglers, and electronic media and paper handouts to teachers for classroom instruction.
19Accidental Catch Sturgeon should be released while still in the water. If hooked deep, cut line close to the hook.If you observe a sturgeon, contact WRD Fisheries Management Section.Under current Georgia regulations, lake sturgeon cannot be harvested and must be released immediately.If a lake sturgeon is accidentally caught, it should be released while still in the water.If hooked deep, cut the line close to the hook.If you observe a sturgeon, find a dead specimen, or accidentally catch one, please contact:Wildlife Resources DivisionFisheries Management Section.The information you provide will be invaluable in our restoration efforts.
20The Past Lake Sturgeon caught in Oostanaula River (1959). One of several historic photographs from Oostanaula River. Majority of historic records (1940s-1960s) are from Oostanaula River.
21The FutureThe youth of our state are learning about conservation methods through hands-on reintroduction activities.They will tell their grandchildren about this …..for it will be their grandchildren’s lifetime before these fish may be harvested again.
22For more information, visit www.georgiawildlife.com