Tag Archives: northeast fishery center

Secrets of the Lower Great Lakes: The search for lake sturgeon

Catherine Gatenby

Catherine Gatenby is a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Lake sturgeon nearly disappeared from the Great Lakes 100 years ago. Discovering the secrets of their biology to help recover the species is a group effort. Today, Catherine Gatenby takes us on a journey to the Niagara River, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario with fish biologists who are diving deep into sturgeon waters to find answers we need for helping this ancient species of fish.

Out on Lake Erie in search of lake sturgeon. Photo credit: USFWS

Out on Lake Erie in search of lake sturgeon. Photo credit: USFWS

While the quest for lost treasure chests of information about lake sturgeon might not be considered fodder for an Indiana Jones movie, the discoveries may be more valuable than gold to fish biologists. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and Northeast Fishery Center along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U. S. Geological Services and Shedd Aquarium are working together to recover lake sturgeon.

Their pursuit to uncover the secrets of this ancient fish doesn’t include excursions into dark caverns or midnight camel rides across the desert. However, it does involve dives into the blue waters of the Niagara River and breathtaking adventures on the expansive Great Lakes.  It takes a dedicated team of scientists, engineers, boat captains and barge operators to restore lake sturgeon and its habitat

Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and the Northeast Fishery Center lake sturgeon restoration crew out on Lake Ontario. Photo credit: USFWS

Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and Northeast Fishery Center lake sturgeon restoration crew out on Lake Ontario. Photo credit: USFWS

Far less is known about the lake sturgeon in lakes Erie and Ontario than in the other Great Lakes. Questions we ask ourselves as we embark on this adventure include: How many sturgeon live here? Where do lake sturgeon spend their lives? Where is the best habitat for spawning and feeding? What do they eat? How many adults are reproducing? And the ultimate question we aim to answer is: How long before we can consider the population healthy and self-sustaining in the Great Lakes? 

“We collect valuable information by tagging wild fish. We learn about their movement, diets, hormone levels and genetic diversity to help us answer these questions,” says Dr. Dimitry Gorsky, of the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. 

Fish biologists with the Northeast Fishery Center and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL implant a tag that will transmit valuable information on migratory behaviors of lake sturgeon. Photo credit: USFWS

Fish biologists with the Northeast Fishery Center and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois, implant a tag that will transmit valuable information on migratory behaviors of lake sturgeon. Photo credit: Shedd Aquarium

Biologists are observing an increase in lake sturgeon numbers in many remnant populations across the Great Lakes. “Over the past four years, we have captured and uniquely marked over 600 individual fish. We used to catch between 15 to 20 fish per year just 10 years ago,” reports Dr. Gorsky, “but we are steadily capturing more lake sturgeon, more than 100 fish each year. This summer, we have already captured nearly 200 fish and are on our way to a record year.”  

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Northeast Fishery Center biologist releases a wild lake sturgeon after collecting vital information that will help evaluate overall health of the population. Photo credit: USFWS

The age distribution of lake sturgeon are eerily similar among different populations as those observed in the lower Great Lakes; most are less than 25 years old, suggesting that this ongoing recovery is in response to large-scale actions that took place many years ago. The first of which may be the Clean Water Act of 1972, which set the table for preventing and removing pollution from our waters. Also in the 1970s, some U.S. states along with the Province of Ontario, Canada, enacted fishing closures on lake sturgeon to protect what fish were remaining, according to Gorsky.

Figure 1. Age distribution of lake sturgeon - oldest fish born in 1967 (1)

For species that delay reproduction, such as the the lake sturgeon which doesn’t reproduce until at least 10 to 15 years of age, it would naturally take decades to see an increase in population growth, assuming the causes for the decline have been abated,” says Dr. John Sweka of the Northeast Fishery Center. 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries biologists study the gentle and ancient lake sturgeon to help with it’s recovery. Photo credit: USFWS

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries biologists study the gentle and ancient lake sturgeon to help with its recovery. Photo credit: USFWS

The combination of setting harvest limits and improvements in water and habitat quality is creating a favorable environment for lake sturgeon recovery. “It’s amazing that actions begun so long ago continue to be linked to improvements in our Great Lakes,” remarked Dr. Gorsky. “Perhaps the greatest secret lake sturgeon may have revealed to us is that recovery takes time.” 

Lake sturgeon in the Niagara River below Niagara Falls. Photo credit: USFWS

Lake sturgeon in the Niagara River. Photo credit: USFWS

Read more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s high-tech tracking of lake sturgeon in the Buffalo Harbor, NY.

Read more about the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and the Northeast Fishery Center

Fisheries conservation begins with having fun and learning!

Catherine Gatenby

Catherine Gatenby is a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In recognition of June being National Get Outdoors Month, today we highlight some of the great work our fisheries program is doing to get people outside to enjoy recreational fishing, boating and other nature related activities. Fisheries biologist Catherine Gatenby takes us on a regional tour of programs happening at several fisheries offices throughout the states in the region.

An excited young angler shows off his prize catch with Dr. Mike Millard at the Northeast Fishery Center Kid's Fishing Day. Photo credit:USFWS

An excited young angler shows off his prize catch with Dr. Mike Millard at the Northeast Fishery Center Kid’s Fishing Day. Photo credit: USFWS

It’s summer in the Northeast!  It’s field season, filled with fairs, festivals and fishing.

Teaching at a festival

Educating and informing community members about our work is one way to help prevent the spread of harmful invasive aquatic species. Photo credit: USFWS

At this time of year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries staff are out on the water and in our communities working to protect and restore our fisheries and help raise awareness of environmental issues while helping families enjoy the outdoors at local festivals and fishing events.

Young people from Buffalo, New York help plant pollinator gardens. Photo credit: USFWS

This young lady from Buffalo, New York is helping plant pollinator gardens. Photo credit: USFWS

We’ve also been helping youth explore careers in conservation, observe nature through photography, plant pollinator gardens, investigate aquatic bugs and fish, and learn about healthy habitats.  For two years we’ve been working with urban school children and Girl Scouts in Buffalo, New York, to restore habitat at an historic grain elevator site along the Buffalo River. Through hands-on activities, we teach children and their families the importance of native plants, trees and wetlands to maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and how every green space we restore helps improve water and food quality for fish, wildlife and people.

Proud anglers at the White Sulphur Springs Rotary Children's Fishing Derby.

Proud anglers at the White Sulphur Springs Rotary Children’s Fishing Derby. Photo credit: USFWS

Did you also know that being outdoors and listening to nature reduces stress in kids and adults? You can learn more about this subject at the Children and Nature Network and at The Dirt’s blog about what dose of nature we need to feel better.

 

The Project Healing Waters program in Salem, Virginia, recognizes the healing benefits of being outside and work with the Roanoke Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery and the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center to connect wounded veterans with a favorite outdoor past-time – fishing!

These Veterans are enjoying a day outside fishing. Photo credit: USFWS

These Veterans are enjoying a day outside fishing. Photo credit: USFWS

Working at these veterans fishing events can be life-changing as well. One volunteer has been inspired to pursue a career helping the environment because of her experiences at the Richard Cronin National Salmon Station in Massachusetts.  Josie Cicia shared her story with us in a recent blog.

Fishing with a "buddy" can be useful when you need help netting a big fish! Photo credit: USFWS

Fishing with a “buddy” can be useful when you need help netting a big fish! Photo credit: USFWS

The Northeast Fishery Center and the Lloyd Wilson Chapter of Trout Unlimited also enjoy assisting children who need help getting outdoors and connecting with nature.  Every year children visit the Northeast Fishery Center as part of their life skills support program for a day of learning how to fish and building confidence.

Exploring streams is one way to learn about aquatic wildlife. These kids are certainly learning from their "hands-on" experience! Photo credit: USFWS

Exploring streams is one way to learn about aquatic wildlife. These kids are certainly learning from their “hands-on” experience! Photo credit: USFWS

Educating our youth and communities about the natural world in which we live is an important part of the Service mission. We aim to provide meaningful experiences that will help ensure there are scientists, conservationists, anglers, artists and citizens that are passionate about the outdoors who will work together to sustain healthy environments for generations to come. Learn more about events we host in your community or invite us to your local event or school.  We’d like to join you in raising awareness about the environment and help our young people get outdoors and stay healthy.

 

 

Alexa reels in a big catch at the Northeast Fishery Center Youth Fishing Derby. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

Fishing program teaches youth confidence and life skills

Alexa reels in a big catch at the Northeast Fishery Center Youth Fishing Derby. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

Alexa reels in a big catch at the Northeast Fishery Center Youth Fishing Derby. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

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Fisheries biologist Catherine Gatenby writes about her visit with students at a fishing derby.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. I was fortunate to witness this simple, yet profound proverb at an annual Youth Fishing Derby held at the Northeast Fishery Center in Lamar, Pennsylvania, with help from the Lloyd Wilson Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

The eager anglers were children who require a little extra help with daily routines, including, school, moving around, getting outdoors and sometimes communicating with others. What they don’t require, however, is extra help having fun, enjoying the outdoors, and being inspired by nature. These spirited children unknowingly taught me about the joy of fishing, the joy of being in a community supporting each other, and the joy of being an educator witnessing ah-ha moments and happiness. I saw everything from hugs and high-fives to netting fish out of the pond and helping each other hold the fishing pole while reeling in the big catch.

It takes a team, as Kaleb nets Kenny's fish. Credit:

It takes a team, as Kaleb nets Kenny’s fish. Credit:
Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

I asked one little girl, who was patiently watching her bobber and fishing line, what she wanted to be when she grew up. “A biologist,” she replied. Encouragingly, I told her she seems to have what it takes because biologists spend lots of time observing nature, waiting for fish and other wildlife to reveal themselves. “I can wait,” she said, which nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Kenny, Zoe and Kaleb show off their catch. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

Kenny, Zoe and Kaleb show off their catch. Credit: Catherine Gatenby/USFWS

I asked a little boy named Kaleb if he was enjoying the day and what he thought about fishing. He smiled and proudly said, “fresh, healthy waters.” He continued to tell me that “fishing was a great time, being outdoors, the sun is out, it’s almost summer.” The derby was his favorite part of the day. And his wish for all kids around the world was “ a big batch of fish.”

All these children attend public schools and participate in a life skills support program. The program helps build confidence, knowledge and skills which will allow the children to enjoy independence as they grow. Learning how to fish, and visiting a federal fish hatchery research center, is part of their curriculum.

I asked one teacher from the Central Mountain High School – are kids more focused after spending time outdoors? He chuckled, “Well I’m not sure about being more focused – what I will say is that they are incredibly proud, they feel more empowered and show more confidence. They want more opportunities to explore outdoors. And when I see them outside of school with their parents, I see them behaving with more confidence, and I see parents feeling more at ease, giving their children more independence.”

I am grateful to these teachers, the children, the Lloyd Wilson Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Northeast Fishery Center, for reminding me that EVERYONE is a potential ambassador of conservation, and a potential partner in our mission to conserve and protect our natural resources. These children tell their stories to their parents, to their school administrators, and along the way to the outside community. We all benefit from conversations on conserving healthy fish and healthy waters. And as Kaleb suggested, maybe even enjoy a grilled trout once in a while.