The Toledo Zoo will begin construction of a modular facility on Zoo-owned property near the Maumee River to headstart lake sturgeon. Toledo Zoo expects to rear thousands of lake sturgeon from eggs collected in U.S. and Canadian waters until the fish are approximately six months old. At that point, the sturgeon will be released into the Maumee River and their population monitored by fisheries biologists with the Ohio Division of Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The goal is to rear the fish in Maumee River water from a young age and capitalize on the homing ability of the species in hopes that they will return to the waterway to spawn at adulthood in approximately 20 years.
Lake sturgeon have a long life span of 50 to 150 years, can grow to be more than six feet long and weigh up to 200 lbs. These fish have very noticeable sensory organs, called barbels, that hang down near the mouth. These organs help the sturgeon locate food off the bottom of the lake. They also have a shovel like face used for pushing substrate around in search for food. In addition, they are thought of as ancient fish because of their armor plating like scales protecting their body. Sturgeon are also known for their natal homing ability which causes them to return to the same areas in which they were born to spawn.
Young sturgeon in rearing tank.
6 month old sturgeon.
Sexually mature sturgeon over 50 years old.
History of Lake Sturgeon
In the 1800s, lake sturgeon were abundant in the Maumee River, however, demand of caviar and fuel along with commercial over fishing caused the population to decline and ultimately disappear. Currently, Ohio doesn’t have a reproducing lake sturgeon population.
In order to determine whether the Maumee could support this population, a University of Toledo Department of Environmental Sciences PhD student completed habitat assessments to verify the quality and potential sturgeon habitat.
The facility that is being built at the Zoo is in the design and planning stages with construction slated to begin this year with the first release of sturgeon into the Maumee River planned for 2018. In addition, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources – Division of Wildlife will support a part-time sturgeon technician position to assist with lake sturgeon rearing. Funds for this project were provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act.