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Possible federal protection has no immediate impact on lake sturgeon management, regulations in Minnesota

Aug 18, 2019 09:03AM ● By Editor
Long-lived and slow growing, lake sturgeon are recovering well in Minnesota, but that's not the case everywhere in their range. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering the species for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

By Brad Dokken of the Grand Forks Herald - August 18, 2019

For anglers who might be wondering, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to consider lake sturgeon for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act has no immediate impact on Minnesota sturgeon management or fishing regulations on Lake of the Woods, Rainy River or anywhere else in the state.

Simply put, it’s business as usual. Now, we wait to see what happens next.

As the Duluth News Tribune reported Wednesday, Aug. 14, efforts to restore lake sturgeon through strict regulations, habitat restoration, stocking and cleanup projects have worked in some places -- Rainy River being a classic example -- but the recovery has lagged in other places across the species’ historic range.

As a result, the Service, responding to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, ruled that federal protection may be warranted.

The agency published its decision Thursday in the Federal Register. 

“The Service finds the petition to list the lake sturgeon presented substantial information based on potential threats associated with dams and hydroelectric facilities, dredging and channelization, contaminants and habitat fragmentation and impacts from invasive species,” the agency said in a news release.

In the short term, the Fish and Wildlife Service will begin gathering information from states and tribes on lake sturgeon status and management, said Henry Drewes, northwest region fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji.

A timeline hasn’t been announced, but the process “does not move remarkably fast,” Drewes said.

“They will undertake a special status assessment and gather all the information they can … and use that for determining whether lake sturgeon warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act,” he said.

Drewes, who had an opportunity to review the 200-page petition, said it was well done. 

“Based on the legitimacy of the arguments made by the petitioner and on a national scale and historical scale, their arguments were deemed acceptable by the Fish and Wildlife Service,” he said.

Historically, lake sturgeon were found throughout the Mississippi River and its tributaries, all of the Great Lakes, the Red River from Minnesota to Hudson Bay and many tributaries of Hudson Bay, according to a lake sturgeon species profile on the DNR website.

The DNR provided the Service with a “substantial amount” of information about the status and management of sturgeon in Minnesota and will provide additional information as the process unfolds, Drewes said.

In Minnesota, the ongoing lake sturgeon recovery has been a success story -- successful to the point that the DNR now offers a statewide catch-and-release sturgeon season in addition to the limited harvest season on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River.

“We have no plans to change anything at this time,” Drewes said. “We feel our emphasis on sturgeon recovery over the last 20 years -- we’re seeing positive signs in the populations of sturgeon in all the watersheds. That’s why in 2015, we implemented the catch-and-release season because we believe we’ve been seeing positive signs of recovery.”

The DNR has collaborated on sturgeon recovery efforts with the Red Lake Nation on Red Lake, the White Earth Nation within the White Earth Reservation and the Fond du Lac tribe on the St. Louis River in northeast Minnesota, Drewes said.

“It’s been a wonderful partnership,” he said. “It’s certainly an area of common ground with our tribal partners that has been very, very fruitful.”

Lake sturgeon can live more than 100 years and exceed 200 pounds. Sturgeon don’t reach sexual maturity until their late teens to mid-20s, and male sturgeon spawn only every two or three years.

For you trivia buffs out there, the largest lake sturgeon ever recorded measured 15½ feet long and weighed 406 pounds, The fish was caught near Dominion City, Man., on the Roseau River -- a Red River tributary -- on Oct. 27, 1903, the Manitoba Historical Society states on its website.

The fish was aged at 150 years old.

To read the original article and see more of Brad Dokken's outdoors columns, follow this link to the Grand Forks Herald website.

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