It has been 10 years since the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released 1,900 four-inch, hatchery-reared sturgeon back into the Genesee River. Since that time, the Seneca Park Zoo has assisted the USGS in a mark-and-recapture study to assess the success of this release. 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. Sturgeon in the Genesee River are growing at a rate similar to those in the Wisconsin waterways. Recaptured fish are now measuring in at over three feet in length! These juveniles will move out into the lake where they will stay until sexual mature at 14 to 20 years of age.
The success of this project had led to several new questions regarding the lake sturgeon. In 2011, Dr. Jeff Wyatt and Dr. Louis DiVincenti, through the University of Rochester, were awarded a $308,000 EPA grant to begin blood sampling on sturgeon in the Genesee River and the Oswegatchie River near the St. Lawrence. The two sites were selected to compare the levels of toxins in fish found in the Genesee River with those in the Oswegatchie. The Genesee River has historically been exposed to high levels of toxins where the Oswegatchie has not. Samples collected are still being analyzed and results will be used to help determine how much the Genesee River has improved over the years.
The initial release in 2003 and 2004 of lake sturgeon back into the Genesee River has been very successful. Recapture studies are ongoing and scientists wait anxiously for the sturgeon to return to the river to spawn. As early as 2017, males may begin meandering their way back to seek out females. Females will return a few years later but they will meet in spawning grounds on the bottom of the river. Similar to salmon, lake sturgeon will return to the tributaries where they hatched. Our released sturgeon will one day return to the Genesee River.
In 2013, 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. These newbies will now begin the process that their predecessors have helped to establish.
In 2014, the Seneca Park Zoo joined the NYSDEC and USGS release of 1,000 hatchery-reared baby sturgeon into the Genesee River. Read more about this release here. The Seneca Park 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.
The Zoo hosted its first annual lake sturgeon weigh-in in 2013.
To read the Spring 2010 article by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Spawning Sturgeon, click here.
For additional information on sturgeon, click here.