A fish farm owner in Ohio is trying to sustain a rare species native to Lake Erie that has been pushed to the brink of extinction.
Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) are listed as either threatened or endangered by 19 of the 20 states within their original range in the U.S., including Ohio. Dave Smith, owner of Freshwater Farms in Urbana, Ohio, hopes to learn how to successfully breed the species in captivity. He has acquired nine of the fish from a research lab at The Ohio State University.
Ohio State has been in possession of lake sturgeon for roughly 15 years, but Smith said they haven’t been the subject of heavy research.
“Ever since they brought them there, I’ve been after them to get them involved in a project to spawn and reproduce them here in Ohio,” he told the Springfield News-Sun.
This is a challenging feat, Smith said, because the females are incapable of reproducing until they are around 20 years old, and their reproduction cycle occurs only once every four years.
Lake sturgeon are unique compared to another species called white sturgeon, which Smith has owned for nearly 20 years, due to their pointed snouts.
Sometimes referred to as “living fossils,” the lake sturgeon has been recognized since the Upper Cretaceous period — more than 136 million years ago — when dinosaurs were at the height of their development. They are able to grow longer than six feet and can weigh as much as 200 pounds. Females can also live more than 100 years.
The ancient species was once prevalent in large river and lake systems including the Mississippi River, Hudson Bay, and Great Lakes basins. Their population began plummeting in the early 1900s, however, due to overfishing, habitat loss, dams, and pollution.
Smith said he hopes to be able to continue to research the sturgeon and that he will build a larger display tank in the interest of facilitating breeding. Since lake sturgeon are benthivores that feed on small invertebrates, Smith said he may eventually sell them to residents who want to control snails and other species in ponds.
Local farm raises endangered fish [Springfield News-Sun] Lake Sturgeon [University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute] Lake Sturgeon Biology and Population History in the Great Lakes [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]