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STORATION n efforts register success Lake sturgeon reclaiming Gichigami south shore By the late 2000s the nam project looked like a bust. A dozen years earlier Fond du Lac Band FdL Natural Resources Director the late Larry Schwarzkopf formulated a plan to restore lake sturgeon to the upper St. Louis River system. Beginning in 1998 FdL fisheries staff invested four seasons into sturgeon nam propagation installing egg-filled nesting boxes into the river and releasing tiny hatchlings known as fry. Subsequent surveys conducted by fisheries managers however produced no sign of the native fish. Maybe the St. Louis could no longer support nam notably with the presence of five hydropower dams that chopped up the system into isolated stretches Then in 2010 a fisherman landed an upriver sturgeon followed by a second one. Photos of the St. Louis River catch-and-release angler holding up the distinctive yard-long fish reached FdL fisheries staff. We call that guy Angler of the Year quipped Thomas Howes current Band naturalresourcesprogrammanager.Tribalfisheriesstaffrespondedwithanewround of surveys turning up many more lake sturgeon. The nam recovery program was back on. At the helm of a reinvigorated lake sturgeon restoration effort on Chigamiiziibi St.LouisRiverHowesmonitorsaprogramthatincludesstockingassessmentsand lots of coordination with other natural resources management agencies. Supported by an infusion of funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative fisheries and habitat improvements are taking long strides in the region. At Fond du Lac were lookingtobringbackthebigthreewalleyelakesturgeonandwhitefishHowessaid. Overfishing pollution and habitat changesmost clearly evidenced by the installation of six hydropower dams that prevent species like sturgeon from reaching spawninggroundsledtosharpreductionsinfishcommunitiesthroughthe20thCen- tury. Howes summed it up saying The fish went away because of human activity. Jurassic comeback Tens-of-millions of years ago lake sturgeon swam with dinosaurs including many creatures whose bones now inhabit natural history museums across Turtle Island. Onward throughout the prehistoric millennia the gnarly fish known as nam in Ojibwemowin adapted and survived to unique habitats. For todays biolo- gists those distinctive characteristicsbuilt into genesare a key consideration in restoration plans. WevelearnedthatLakeSuperiorsturgeonareauniquepopulationgenetically different from others in the Great Lakes basin said US Fish Wildlife Service USFWS Biologist Henry Quinlan. Are fish from the Lake Michigan basin less hardy Were not sure so were taking precautions to protect the fishery. QuinlanischairmanoftheinteragencyLakeSuperiorLakeSturgeonWorkgroup working closely with the Fond du Lac Band and other stakeholders. While previous introductions of lake sturgeon into the fragmented St. Louis watershed originated fromWisconsinsLakeWinnebago1983-1993andMenomineeRiver1998-2003 the new latest round of stocking draws exclusively from the Lake Superior basin appropriately from the Sturgeon River in Upper Michigan. Straight out the trailer Where the West Branch of the Ontonagon River spills out of Lake Gogebic a long enclosed trailer has occupied the east bank in recent summers serving as a hatchery and home for the next generation of namewag. Placards from a half-dozen agencies are emblazoned along the trailers steel frame exhibiting a unified com- mitment from tribal state and federal fisheries managers to restore lake sturgeon By Charlie Otto Rasmussen Staff Writer A combined team of Fond du Lac Band and USFWS staff collect data from young hatchery-raised sturgeon. Inset USFWS Biologist Glenn Miller injects a permanent PIT tag under the skin of a fingerling lake sturgeon one of more than 1500 released into the St. Louis River in late July. photos by Charlie Otto Rasmussen 1854 Treaty Authority monitors sturgeon population Sustaining a clan Historically the St. Louis River was home to a very abundant naturally repro- ducing population of nam or lake sturgeon. By the early 1900s lake sturgeon were nearly eliminated from the St. Louis River system due to effects of exploitation water pollution and habitat alteration. As water quality improved into the early 1980s the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources began the long process of a large-scale reintro- duction program. Between 1983 and 2001 fry and fingerling sturgeon were stocked annually in an effort to reestablish enough year classes for eventual resumption of natural reproduction. Now 30 years after stocking was initiated there are signs that sturgeon are again reproducing in the river. To monitor this occurrence in 2010 the 1854 Treaty Authority started larval drift net sampling below suspected spawning sites to confirm successful hatching of larval sturgeon. Generally sturgeon fry hatch within 8-11 days and shortly afterwards drift downstream with the current at night until they settle out and begin feeding on their own. How drift nets work Very fine mesh nets attached to a D-shaped frame are set in light current downstream of where eggs were likely laid. As larval fish drift downstream they are captured in a collection cup at the back of the drift net. Nets are checked about once an hour and any larval fish are identified as lake sturgeon or other species. Since 2010 larval sturgeon have been confirmed in two different years where in other years high spring flows have prevented effective sampling. In any event it is terrific to see evidence of natural reproduction again and the 1854 Treaty Author- ity will continue to do this sampling each spring to document years where at least some reproduction has taken place. By Marne Kaeske 1854 Treaty Authority As larval fish drift downstream they are captured in a collection cup at the back of the drift net. Inset larval sturgeon photos by Brian Borkholder 1854 Treaty Authority have initiated additional sampling in 2015 to look for juvenile sturgeon in the middle and lower reaches of the St. Louis River estuary. Previous work with bottom trawling has indicated that it is an effective sampling technique for capturing all life stages of sturgeon. With the acquisition of a new trawling vessel thanks to a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant by the Bureau of IndianAffairs1854willbeabletolookforsturgeonwhilecontinuingitsmonitoring efforts for other native and invasive fish species in the St. Louis River. See Nam page 23 PAGE 13 MAZINAIGAN