Dawn E. Dittman
As part of an ongoing program to restore lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in New York, hatchery-produced juveniles have been stocked into Oneida (8,127) and Cayuga (3,752) lakes, 1995-2004. Release of juveniles as a restoration strategy assumes movement into available suitable habitat. These lakes are connected to the New York Canal system consists largely of rivers altered into a barge canal. Migration of these fish into the Seneca and Oswego Rivers (Oswego and Erie Canals) has been documented. Measurable local populations appear to be present in the system upstream and downstream of barriers (lock/dam complexes). In typical canals the majority habitat consists of relatively homogenous depths and substrates maintained by regular dredging and have degraded water quality. The canal system offers a suite of human impacted habitat conditions that are unfortunately not so rare within the lake sturgeon’s native range. These habitat conditions likely affect use of, movements within, and possible spawning in, the system. Whether a population of lake sturgeon can be sustained in this system will ultimately depend on the quality, quantity, distribution, and availability of essential habitats. Also, knowledge of population parameters such as population size, growth rate, and size distribution, are critical to the evaluation of population stability and persistence. In order to evaluate the potential of the Oswego River basin to support a self-sustaining lake sturgeon population, a comprehensive examination of current distribution and abundance, delineation of critical habitats for all life stages, documentation of spawning activity and habitat, and the effects of river channelization and barriers on all of these, is necessary. The results of this project status assessment will aid tribal, state, and federal managers efforts to more completely understand the restoration ecology of this native species and help to formulate a more effective sturgeon management plan for New York.
Native fish conservation, restoration, and rehabilitation programs are a key activity for natural resource agencies. Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) is a native fish species that is considered integral to healthy fish communities across the Great Lakes Region. In 1993 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) initiated a project to restore Lake Sturgeon as a viable self-sustaining component of the fish community in St. Lawrence River tributaries and the St. Lawrence River itself. Several historic sturgeon waters were selected for restoration stocking. One of these systems was the Oswegatchie River / Black Lake / Indian River system. From 1994 through 2004 fingerling Lake Sturgeon were released into the Oswegatchie River and into Black Lake /Indian River to reestablish the species in the watershed. Assessment of the results of management actions is a critical component of restoration ecology. Some the ultimate goals of the sturgeon restoration management in New York include the detection of a minimum number of adult sturgeon, the detection of spawning sturgeon in the target waters, and successful recruitment in a minimum of 3 years. The females from the early years of stocking, have reached the minimum age of first reproduction. An identified critical information need for ongoing Lake Sturgeon management in New York is spawning population delineation and quantification of natural recruitment. Analysis will allow determination of whether some of the endpoint goals of sturgeon restoration in New York have the potential to be reached in the Oswegatchie River and Black Lake System.
Migrating fish are known to move into the Black River at spawning time and successful Walleye (Sander vitreus, Mitchell, 1818) spawning is suspected, but has not been documented. Enhancement of Walleye, and potentially Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), spawning habitat in this area may significantly contribute to production of these native species in Eastern Lake Ontario. We hypothesize that the production of Walleye and/or Lake Sturgeon will be enhanced by improving spawning habitat in the mouth of the Black River downstream of the first river barrier.