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Sturgeon show signs of thriving in northern Michigan lake

Traverse City Record-Eagle

Onaway – It took just over two hours for the 2021 public sturgeon spearing season on Black Lake in northern Michigan to end.

Seven sturgeon were claimed in that time on Feb. 6, appearing to show that the ancient species is thriving in the Cheboygan County watershed, according to the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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Recreational fishing rules allow only seven of the fish to be taken from Black Lake, about 100 miles northeast of Traverse City. The largest weighed in at 61 pounds.

Officials end the spearing season after the sixth fish, but a seventh sturgeon may be taken in the moments before the event is called. State officials reported about 570 people registered for the event.

Craig Kelliher, left, gets help removing his spear from a sturgeon  by Paul Muche Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021 during the first day of the sturgeon spearing season on Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh, Wis.

Lake sturgeon are bottom-feeding fish that often live well past 100 years and grow past lengths of six feet. Estimates show the lake system’s adult sturgeon population may have nearly doubled over the course of the last several decades, said Dave Borgeson, fisheries biologist and northern Lake Huron unit manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“All our information indicates an upward trend in the population,” Borgeson said.

The Black Lake chapter of the nonprofit Sturgeon For Tomorrow works to preserve the species, educate the public and assist researchers with hatchery and tagging activities. It also organizes volunteers to guard spawning sturgeon in the Black River from poachers.

“Sturgeon guarding has done wonders to protect the adult population when they are really vulnerable while spawning in the spring,” Borgeson said.

Officials plan to survey Black Lake’s juvenile sturgeon population in 2023 to compare to data collected in 2013.