Lake Sturgeon Found Spawning in Genesee River

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced a milestone in the restoration of the Genesee River following the collection of a spawning female lake sturgeon in the lower Genesee for the first time in more than 50 years. The announcement took place with partners along the banks of the Genesee River in Monroe County. On May 25, 2021, Dr. Dawn Dittman and the field crew from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science netted the 61-inch, nearly 70-pound female lake sturgeon. DEC began stocking lake sturgeon into the Lower Genesee River in 2003, as part of the State’s efforts to support the species’ recovery.

“Working with our partners, DEC’s investments and efforts to stock and clean up the Genesee watershed have paid off for lake sturgeon in the Genesee River,” said Commissioner Seggos. “This sturgeon thrived in the Genesee as a stocked juvenile and has finally reached maturity to hopefully produce another generation. We appreciate the work of all our federal partners, Monroe County, Seneca Park Zoo, New York Sea Grant, and others improving the Genesee River ecosystem and increasing public awareness of the river’s ongoing restoration.”

The discovery of the spawning lake sturgeon in lower section of the Genesee River is significant as the area is part of the Rochester Embayment Area of Concern (AOC). The AOC designation was given to 43 areas around the Great Lakes Basin under the U.S.- Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, signifying the chemical, physical, or biological components of the area’s ecosystem were degraded as a result of local human activities.

DEC works closely with regulatory partners at the USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Monroe County Department of Health, to improve water quality and restore habitat in the Rochester Embayment AOC. The return of spawning lake sturgeon provides further evidence that restoration efforts are leading to tangible improvements to the ecosystem and support fisheries restoration and management goals. In addition, the Seneca Park Zoo and New York Sea Grant help educate the public about lake sturgeon and the Genesee River.

Dr. Dittman has worked with DEC to collect scientific data on lake sturgeon since the creation of the stocking program nearly 30 years ago. DEC stocks juvenile lake sturgeon into the Genesee River as part of a statewide recovery effort for the species, currently listed as ‘Threatened’ in New York State. Part of the recovery criteria for the species is to increase the number of spawning populations across its range in New York.

Dr. Dawn Dittman, Research Ecologist, USGS Great Lakes Science Center, said, “I am thrilled to report this milestone in the long-term restoration of Lake Sturgeon to the Genesee River,” Dittman said. “The finding validates scientists’ expectation that the first spawning would occur when stocked female sturgeons reached 17 or 18 years old.”

Jeff Wyatt, DVM, MPH, Seneca Park Zoo Environmental Advocate, said, “The Seneca Park Zoo is proud to be the temporary home to juvenile lake sturgeon each year to share these amazing fish with the public. We are also glad to see our work on the Rochester Embayment Area of Concern coming to such tangible fruition with the return of spawning lake sturgeon.”

Michael Goehle, Project Leader for Lower Great Lakes Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said, “The Genesee River restoration program contributes to the overall restoration of Lake Sturgeon in Lake Ontario and its major tributaries, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to support this effort with our partners and across several of our offices and programs. Our Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office assists with migration and population assessments, our New York Field Office assists with propagation efforts and area of concern support, and our Genoa National Fish Hatchery assists with lake sturgeon propagation. Much of this work has been ongoing for more than 20 years.”

Across New York, lake sturgeon numbers are on the rise and DEC asks the angling public to continue to support their recovery by releasing accidentally hooked sturgeon immediately. The heat and stress of spawning make lake sturgeon more vulnerable to incidental mortality from angling at this time of year. DEC depends on anglers to support sturgeon by removing the hook in accidental catches while the fish is still in the water and move to a different location or use a different angling technique once the sturgeon is hooked. For more information about the lake sturgeon recovery program in New York State, visit Lake Sturgeon Recovery Plan – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

To support stewardship of lake sturgeon, New York Sea Grant has published a Lake Sturgeon Intermediate Curriculum for sixth- to eighth-grade students as part of a suite of lake sturgeon-related resources for school and public use to encourage conservation of one of the largest and longest-living native fish species, and a threatened species, in the Great Lakes. See NY Sea Grant’s website (leaves DEC website) for details.