Artificial reef helps Great Lakes sturgeon population

Artificial reef in St. Clair River helps Great Lakes sturgeon population spawn

Published On: Aug 30 2012 05:12:29 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 28 2012 06:02:49 PM EDT
ST. CLAIR RIVER, Mich. -

Primitive-looking fish called lake sturgeon are responding well to a new artificial reef in the St. Clair River.

The Great Lakes were teeming with sturgeon in the 1800s. They evolved perfectly for rooting worms and larvae out of the bottoms of lakes and rivers.

However, their numbers have radically declined due to over-fishing, pollution, habitat loss and sea lampreys.

The new reef is an acre of rocks 20 feet below the surface of the river in Algonac, Mich.

"It’s incredible," said Russ Strach, director of the Great Lakes Science Center for the U.S. Geological Survey.

The artificial reef was installed this spring.

"While the rocks were still being dropped, these sturgeon were actively spawning," Strach said. "They were spawning while our divers were down there. They came up with sticky eggs all over their wet suits."

It will take many years to see the work pay off. Female sturgeon do not spawn until they are at least 20 years old. Still, the project is exciting to Algonac resident Jim Felgenauer.

“That reef will be there doing its job long after we’re gone," he said. "It’s great for society and great for the environment.”

Sturgeon can live to be 100 years old. They can be legally fished, but under strict limits.

The Geological Survey’s partners in the project include Michigan Sea Grant, U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.