Friday, October 3, 2014

Agencies stock Genesee River with young sturgeon

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 3:32 PM

click to enlarge One of the 1,015 lake sturgeon fingerlings released today in the Genesee River. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • One of the 1,015 lake sturgeon fingerlings released today in the Genesee River.
A group of county, state, and federal organizations released more than 1,000 lake sturgeon fingerlings into the Genesee River today. 

The fish were hatched in June at the State Department of Environmental Conservation's Oneida fish hatchery. Early this afternoon, a DEC boat took them to Seth Green Island where they were released.

The sturgeon will spend the next 10 to 15 years in the Genesee River before they move on to Lake Ontario, said Dr. Jeff Wyatt, director of animal health and conservation for the Seneca Park Zoo.

Mature lake sturgeon are generally three to five feet long, and between 10 and 80 pounds. However, some fish grow much larger.

Also released were two, 2-year-old sturgeon that had been raised and displayed at the zoo. Wyatt said that he's bringing three fingerlings back to the zoo, to take the place of the released fish.

Today's release was part of a broader initiative by the DEC, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Geological Survey. The organizations plan to continue stocking sturgeon in Lake Ontario tributaries and the St. Lawrence River, with the goal of re-establishing the fish's population in the lake. (The Seneca Park Zoo has been deeply involved with efforts to reintroduce lake sturgeon to the Genesee River.)

click to enlarge DEC staffer Dan Mulhall holds up a 2-year-old sturgeon. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • DEC staffer Dan Mulhall holds up a 2-year-old sturgeon.
The sturgeon are native to Lake Ontario and the Genesee River, but they were essentially wiped out by overfishing through the early 1900's. And pollution in the Genesee River and near-shore areas of the lake were, for a long time, obstacles to bringing the fish's population back.

A decade ago, a team of wildlife researchers led by Dawn Dittman at the USGS Great Lakes Science Center decided to reintroduce the fish. That followed decades of work to clean up the Genesee, and researchers believed that the river was at a point where the sturgeon could survive, grow, and reproduce.

In 2003 and 2004, close to 2,000 sturgeon fingerlings were released into the river, and they are just now nearing the age of reproduction. A DEC press release says that many of those sturgeon survived and now weigh between 10 and 25 pounds.

Any angler who catches a sturgeon is required, by law, to immediately release it. Many of the fish have tracking tags, and anyone who catches one is asked to notify wildlife officials.

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