The Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow in Cheboygan County is seeking volunteers to join in its effort, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement and Fisheries Divisions, to help protect lake sturgeon from illegal harvest during the annual spawning run.
Every spring, mature lake sturgeon, a fish species that is threatened in Michigan and rare throughout the United States, become vulnerable to poaching as they briefly leave Black Lake for spawning sites upstream in the Black River.
Hundreds of volunteers are needed to stand guard along the Black River during the spawning season, from mid-April through early June, to report any suspicious activity and deter the unlawful take of this iconic fish.
“For over 18 years, the annual Sturgeon Guarding Program has proven that people serving as sturgeon guards watching over the river have virtually eliminated poaching, while helping to ensure the protection and reproductive success of the species,” said Ann Feldhauser, a DNR retiree and the guarding program’s volunteer coordinator. “It’s a unique and rewarding experience to witness these majestic fish, which can live up to 100 years and weigh over 200 pounds, swimming up the Black River and to be a key player in safeguarding one of Michigan’s most valuable natural resources.”
When spawning begins, sturgeon guards are assigned in shifts to sites along the river. The volunteers stand watch and, if suspicious activity occurs, use cellular phones provided by Sturgeon for Tomorrow to contact DNR conservation officers who are actively patrolling the area in support of the guarding effort. Aerial surveillance is also deployed to help secure the area.
“The experience of watching researchers capture, tag and release these amazing fish is, in itself, worth the effort of becoming involved,” said Brenda Archambo, coordinator of the Sturgeon Recovery effort in the Black River watershed. “We also encourage those who enjoy mountain biking, mushrooming, hiking, kayaking, canoeing and camping in beautiful wild areas to partner with the sturgeon guarding effort, where the diversity of the experience on the Black River offers a wonderful experience.”
Many opportunities over the approximately six-week-long spawning season are available for those who wish to help. Coordinators will be on-site at the river to assist and answer questions. In addition to guarding the sturgeon, volunteers can also play a key role by recording the number and activity of fish they see. This has become a popular activity for families, scouting and church groups, as well as students interested in natural resource management. Often artists participate as well, especially photographers.
Individuals or groups interested in volunteering should contact Mark and Ann Feldhauser at 906-201-2484, or 906-346-9511.
Volunteers can also register online at www.sturgeonfortomorrow.org/guarding-program.php or web search Sturgeon for Tomorrow, Black Lake Chapter.
For those traveling from outside the local area, hotels, restaurants and Onaway State Park (located on Black Lake) which has improved camping and cabin rentals, are close to the guarding locations.
Volunteers are also encouraged to set up their rustic camps along the banks of the Black River. There is no charge for camping on the state land adjacent to the Black River.
Lake sturgeon rehabilitation in the Cheboygan River watershed is a cooperative effort involving the Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan State University and Tower-Kleber Limited Partnership.
In addition to the guarding program, this effort includes activities such as tagging sturgeon adults and raising young fish for stocking in the Black, Burt and Mullet Lakes, all in Cheboygan County.