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Lake Sturgeon

I recently saw a news article about a 240-pound lake sturgeon caught in the Detroit River in 2021. That’s a big fish! Perhaps someday North Dakota will produce a lake sturgeon of that size.

The historical range of the lake sturgeon included the Red River and its tributaries all the way to Hudson Bay, as well as the Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio river systems. They are presently listed as endangered, threatened, or a species of concern in several states.

Lake sturgeon, like other sturgeons, are primitive fish. They have cartilaginous skeletons and are close relatives of the paddlefish.

Lake sturgeon feed on invertebrates, mussels, snails, crustaceans, and the like. They are a long-lived fish, known to live to well over 100 years, with females generally living longer than males. They do not reach sexual maturity until 15-25 years of age, and like salmon, they return to where they were born to spawn.

History of Lake Sturgeon in North Dakota

Alexander Henry the Younger established a North West Company trading post near the confluence of the Park River with the Red River in the early 1800s. His journals contain several references to the abundance of sturgeon in the area, noting at that time they were “jumping day and night,” and the Red Lake River was “famous sturgeon fishing in the spring,” and “we take from 10-20 sturgeon per day; one weighed 145 pounds.”

But around the 1950s, records of the lake sturgeon in the Red River and its tributaries fell silent. They appear to have been extirpated from the Red River watershed, assumedly due to a variety of factors including dam construction, habitat degradation and loss, and perhaps overfishing.

Recovery efforts

But things are now looking up for the lake sturgeon in the Red River and its tributaries. With the help of the Valley City National Fish Hatchery the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has released lake sturgeon fry into the Pembina River.

Plus, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has also been stocking lake sturgeon in the Red River and its tributaries as well. And last October, a 38-inch lake sturgeon was caught in the Red River near Grand Forks. So maybe these large, primitive fish will again cruise the Red River and its tributaries in abundance.

Further Reading

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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