Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

August 4, 2013

Forum: Modern factors threaten ancient fish

By Brenda Archambo

As a state surrounded by fresh water resources, Michigan has a rich history of fishing. Since it became a state, Michigan has had a thriving fishing industry that helps contribute to our state’s economy. But one of the most iconic fish species found in our waters is now feeling the heat for several reasons, including climate change.

Lake sturgeon, a fish that has grazed the bottom of our Great Lakes for thousands of years and dates back to when dinosaurs walked the Earth, is Michigan’s longest-lived fish species. This species was once abundant in the Great Lakes until pollution and commercial overfishing in the 1800s and early 1900s decreased the population substantially.

In 1994, lake sturgeon were added to Michigan’s list of threatened species, beginning a concerted effort to revive the population. However, the recovery of this species is difficult due to reproductive traits including delayed maturation and periodic interrupted spawning cycles.

In a new book, “The Great Lake Sturgeon,” published by Michigan State University Press, various authors outline some of the lore and science associated with lake sturgeon, and illuminate its importance to the people and ecology of the Great Lakes. I am proud to have contributed to this important book.

Now, the population is facing climate stressors due to pollution, destruction of habitat and invasive aquatic species, which will only increase as climate change continues to threaten ecosystems.

“Climate change is the single biggest threat to fish and wildlife this century,” says Dave Dempsey, co-editor of The Great Lake Sturgeon. “It warms water temperatures, which greatly affects spawning. In North America, climate change is leading to direct habitat loss, which could permanently alter fish and wildlife communities.”

“Lake sturgeon are specifically threatened by climate change due to its disruption of the timing of sturgeon reproduction,” says Dempsey. This species is also vulnerable to changes in water levels and increased runoff associated with extreme weather and climate change.

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