A Michigan Icon at Risk
It has been called a relic from the age of dinosaurs. As the longest lived fish species in Michigan, the lake sturgeon can indeed be considered the elder statesman of Michigan's fishes. But this iconic fish, already imperiled in Michigan and throughout its historic range, is now at risk of further population decline due to a warming world.
Carbon pollution from burning coal, oil, and gas is causing climate change that is threatening fish and wildlife across the globe and in Michigan. If we don’t make changes soon, Michigan will continue to have higher annual average temperatures, increased year round precipitation, more frequent heat waves, and a decrease in lake ice, including ice on the Great Lakes.
Lake sturgeon were once abundant throughout the Great Lakes system until overfishing in the 1800’s and early 1900’s decimated their populations. In 1994, lake sturgeon were designated as a state threatened species in Michigan, marking the beginning of recovery programs to attempt to revive the population. Lake sturgeon, however, have reproductive traits that make rehabilitation of the species difficult, including delayed maturation and periodic interrupted spawning cycles. To make matters worse, this species is now faced with further negative impacts by pollution, the destruction of main food sources, and invasive aquatic species; impacts that are likely to be exacerbated by climate change.
Climate change is expected to further threaten this fish as rising water temperatures greatly decrease the quality and quantity of spawning and nursery habitats. Climatic variability could also disrupt the timing of sturgeon reproduction and length of optimal fish growth periods as environmental cues shift and warming waters affect stream ecological processes and ecosystem health. Lake sturgeon are also vulnerable to changes in water levels and increased runoff associated with extreme weather and climate change.
Impacts on Recreation
Changes in the earth’s climate directly threaten treasured wildlife-associated pastimes in Michigan, including fishing.
Fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching are not just recreational pastimes; they are also a major contributor to the Michigan economy. In 2011, over 2.5 million sportsmen and women and wildlife enthusiasts participated in wildlife associated activities in Michigan, including over 1.56 million anglers. In the same year, anglers alone had a significant contribution to the Michigan economy by spending $2.41 billion in the state. However, this rich community of fish and game, and the economy that depends on it, is at risk from a warming world.
Take Action: How You Can Help Lake Sturgeon
- Sponsor a lake sturgeon tank: Sturgeon in the Classroom educational fish tanks set up in classrooms encourage children to appreciate and take care of our natural resources.
- Help purchase tags and other essential equipment used to monitor and learn more about the lake sturgeon.
- Release any lake sturgeon you catch and report poachers to the Michigan DNR.
- Help prevent the spread of invasive species and diseases by cleaning all your recreational equipment and using clean ballast technology.
- Sponsor a watershed restoration project or volunteer your time as a Sturgeon Guard, to educate others, raise funds or help out in the field.