RUTLAND, Vt. – Fisheries staff from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department are reporting that a total of 17 lake sturgeon were collected during recent sampling activities on several Lake Champlain tributaries, an encouraging sign for the prehistoric, endangered species.
“We started sampling in mid-May, collecting 16 sturgeon in the Winooski River over a five day span, as well as one sturgeon in the Lamoille River in three days of work,” said Chet MacKenzie, fisheries program manager with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. “Water levels and temperatures were excellent for collecting fish in the Winooski, but not ideal for effective sampling in the Lamoille.”
Sturgeon collected this year ranged in length from 48 to 55 inches and weighed between 20 and 40 pounds. The single sturgeon collected in the Lamoille River was identified as a fish that had been previously captured and tagged in 1999.
“By comparison, a total of 25 sturgeon were collected at spawning sites in the Winooski and Lamoille rivers during a 5-year span from 1998 to 2002,” said MacKenzie. “While it’s too early to know if the increase in the number of sturgeon collected this year indicates the population is beginning to rebound, it is good news that so many fish were collected in such a short time.”
MacKenzie said another encouraging sign this year was that sea lamprey wounding rates had dropped significantly from rates observed during previous sampling. The number of fresh and healing wounds on sturgeon collected this year had dropped to 18 wounds per 100 fish, significantly lower than the 276 wounds per 100 fish seen on fish collected between 1998 and 2002.
The department began collecting lake sturgeon again this spring at various spawning sites in the Winooski and Lamoille rivers in order to tag fish with radio transmitters to monitor their seasonal movements. Sturgeon were last sampled in Lake Champlain in 2002.
“We’re hoping to be able to identify locations in the lake where sturgeon congregate so that future sampling can be done more effectively, allowing us to learn more about their movements in the lake and spawning tributaries,” MacKenzie said.
A total of ten sturgeon in the Winooski were tagged with the transmitters, which will enable fisheries biologists to track them for the next ten years. So far, all ten sturgeon have migrated out of the river and have been located in Lake Champlain. Lake sturgeon movements are being monitored by boat with a portable receiver and by a network of stationary receivers spread throughout the lake by researchers from the University of Vermont.
MacKenzie said future sturgeon sampling is also planned for the Missisquoi River and Otter Creek, as well as additional sampling in the Winooski and Lamoille rivers.
Lake sturgeon, which in Vermont are only found in Lake Champlain and the lower sections of the Winooski, Lamoille and Missisquoi rivers and Otter Creek, are a unique, ancient species of fish that are fully-protected by state law and must be immediately released if caught incidentally. Lake Champlain has the only lake sturgeon population in New England.
The department asks anglers to help population recovery efforts by reporting any sturgeon they catch by calling 802-878-1564, or by contacting their local game warden or district office. Information obtained about sturgeon catches can be valuable to the department’s sampling efforts and to monitoring the trend in sturgeon abundance over time.
Anglers and members of the public are also asked to report illegal sturgeon harvest to law enforcement immediately by calling their local game warden, a state police dispatch center or Operation Game Thief at 1-800-752-5378.
To learn more about Vermont’s fisheries management programs and fishing in Vermont, visit http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com.