Note: The St. Croix River is one of the major refuges for lake sturgeon in the upper Mississippi River basin. It is one of four rivers in Minnesota noted for its restoration success and fishing opportunities.
Press release modified for brevity and emphasis from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed initial reviews of Endangered Species Act (ESA) petitions for three species including lake sturgeon. The Service has concluded that there is substantial information to consider listing the lake sturgeon as threatened or endangered.
The Service will begin in-depth scientific reviews to determine if the lake sturgeon should be listed under the ESA.
The lake sturgeon is a temperate fish that occurs in freshwater systems of North America from the Hudson Bay through the Mississippi River drainages. Although the lake sturgeon was historically abundant, with populations estimated in the millions in each of the Great Lakes, its decline in recent decades has been rapid.
The Service finds the petition to list the lake sturgeon presented substantial information based on potential threats associated with dams and hydroelectric facilities, dredging and channelization, contaminants and habitat fragmentation and impacts from invasive species.
The ESA allows citizens to petition the Service to add or remove species from the ESA, and to reclassify species already listed. Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Service to list the lake sturgeon under the ESA.
Iconic Sturgeon of Great Lakes, Mississippi River Take Step Toward Endangered Species Protection
“This is a big, positive step for lake sturgeon, but these prehistoric survivors need even stronger protections if they’re going to survive,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These behemoth fish are a bellwether for the health of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. We need to protect their spawning rivers and other habitats to ensure they’re not lost forever to extinction.”
The lake sturgeon is an ancient fish species that lives primarily in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River drainage. It has declined by roughly 99 percent over the past century because of overfishing, dams and pollution.
Lake sturgeon can live for 100 years, grow more than 8 feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds. Their populations in Minnesota, Lake Superior, the Missouri River, Ohio River, Arkansas-White River and lower Mississippi River may qualify as endangered. Sturgeon in Lake Michigan and the upper Mississippi River basin may be threatened. In lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario, as well as the St. Lawrence River basin, sturgeon are less imperiled. Most states within the fish’s range provide state protection, prohibiting or limiting harvest.
A May 2018 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity requested a “threatened” listing under the Endangered Species Act for all lake sturgeon in the United States. An alternative option was for the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether there are distinct populations of lake sturgeon that warrant separate listing as threatened or endangered.