Commercial harvesting in the 19th century nearly wiped out the population of lake sturgeon, which has a slow growth rate and late maturation that could not keep up with fishing rates. Industrial pollution has also severely limited the natural habitat of this species.
Since 2003, Seneca Park Zoo has assisted the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in a mark-and-recapture study to assess the success of its release of 1,900 sturgeon. The sturgeon have proven that the river is once again able to sustain wild populations of this prehistoric fish. As sturgeon are recaptured each year, they are measured and weighed. Each sturgeon is identified with a floy tag. These tags are individually numbered and give scientists a unique identifier for the fish they are examining. Growth rates for the reintroduced fish have been compared to populations in Wisconsin where the fish have not had exposure to the toxins previously found in the Genesee River, and sturgeon in the Genesee River are growing at a rate similar to those in the Wisconsin waterways. Fish that measured four inches at introduction are now measuring more than three feet in length! These juveniles will move out into the lake where they will stay until sexual maturity at 14 to 20 years of age.
In 2013 and 2014, the USGS and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) took the next step in repopulating the Genesee River. An additional 2,000 hatchlings were released into the river in 2013, and 1,000 more in 2014. These newbies will now begin the process that their predecessors have helped to establish.
The Zoo has been very fortunate to be part of this program and will continue to support both organizations in their efforts to return lake sturgeon to the Genesee River.
Obey fishing laws. Release any lake sturgeon you catch and keep our waterways free of pollution by cleaning your recreational equipment.