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COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Lake Sturgeon in Canada

Existing Protection or Other Status Designations

The management of lake sturgeon and its habitat in Canada is through regulations pursuant to the Fisheries Act. While the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans regulates habitat aspects of the Act, the provinces have been delegated responsibility for regulation of harvest. These regulations are administered and enforced by each province in which the species occurs. Throughout its range in Canada, the lake sturgeon commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries have been subject to special regulation.

In Alberta, lake sturgeon was declared a Threatened species in 2003 (S. Cotterill, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Edmonton, AB; personal communication) and there has been zero legal harvest since 2004. The Saskatchewan recreational fishery was closed in 1999. Although a quota of 3200 kg still remains for the commercial fishery at Cumberland House; this quota has not been achieved since the 1980s (Wallace 1991; Findlay et al.1997) and the fishery is under a negotiated moratorium through the efforts of the Saskatchewan River Sturgeon Management Board. In Manitoba, all fisheries are closed for conservation reasons in much of the current range. Following a Canada Supreme Court decision (Regina vs. Sparrow 1990), Manitoba Natural Resources changed its policies and removed all restrictions, including season and mesh size, from the Treaty Indian domestic sturgeon fishery (Macdonald 1998). This led to an intensive subsistence fishery in the Nelson River off the mouth of the Landing River during 1991 and, due to the amount harvested, was followed by closure of the fishery and the establishment of the Nelson River Sturgeon Co-management Board.

In Ontario, there is limited commercial fishing, and sport fishing is prohibited in some waters (e.g., Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River). The province is currently considering options for further limiting the sport harvest. A management plan for the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River involving Ontario, Minnesota and Rainy River First Nations included an expanded closed season to better protect spawning fish. There is an annual possession limit of one fish per angler and a harvestable slot of 100 - 140 cm total length to protect spawners, especially females. A government buyout of all non-native commercial fishing licences occurred in 1995. The only remaining commercial sturgeon licence is held by Rainy River First Nations who have chosen not to fish in order to contribute to population recovery. In Lake Nipigon, there is an annual quota of 772 kg but only 32 kg were harvested in 1998 (Van Ogtrop and Salmon 1998). Recently, there have been efforts to develop more restrictive, lake-wide angling regulations on the Canadian side of Lake Superior (M. Friday, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Thunder Bay, ON; personal communication). When the Lake St. Clair fishery was re-opened in 1991 most of the fisheries were bought out with the exception of a couple that remain as assessment tools. One of these has a quota of 15 to 30 sturgeon per year, but the licence will not be renewed when the current permit expires (Locke, pers. comm.).

In Quebec, habitat is also protected by « Loi sur la qualité de l’environnement » (Environmental Quality Act). Fish habitat is also protected by « Loi sur la conservation et la mise en valeur de la faune » (Act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife) which, under articles 128.1 to 121.18 controls activities that could modify biological, physical or chemical component peculiar to fish habitat. Sportfishing is regulated by a closed season (November 1 to June 14) and a daily bag and possession limit of one fish per angler. Commercial fishing is allowed to a limited number of fishermen from June 14 to July 16 and September 15 to October 31 in three sections of the St. Lawrence River between Lac Saint-Louis and the limits of fresh water near Orleans Island, in four reaches of the Ottawa River and in three sections of the Nottaway River. Quotas were, respectively, 80 t, 2.6 t and 2.4 t in 2005.

In the Quebec part of the St. Lawrence River, sustained management effort has been invested over the past 25 years to prevent additional fragmentation of this 350 km stretch of fluvial habitat, intensify the efforts to reduce water pollution in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River system, preserve, and in some cases, improve the quality of the known spawning grounds, and improve the knowledge of the biology and habitat of this population. The lake sturgeon fishery has been subjected to conservative restrictions, measures of control, law enforcement and periodic monitoring. The other fisheries are also monitored, but only by controlling quotas. Lake sturgeon is a key species in the evaluation of the impacts of hydroelectric development in the James Bay watershed. Dam construction, watershed diversion and development of a wide network of access roads in support of hydroelectric development and forest exploitation certainly represent new threats to the protection of this longlived migratory fish.

The conservation rankings of all freshwater fishes have been determined by the Association of Biodiversity Information at the national, provincial and state levels and can be found on the Nature Conservancy web site (see NatureServe 2004). In the United States, the lake sturgeon is presumed extirpated in Alabama, North Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia; and possibly extirpated in Georgia and Kansas. It is ranked as (S1) in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont; (S2) in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio; and (S3) in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Canada, it is ranked as (S2/S3) in Alberta and Manitoba; (S2) in Saskatchewan; (S3) in Ontario; and (S4) in Quebec.

All 24 species of sturgeon in the world, including lake sturgeon, are currently listed on Appendix II of the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In the United States, the federal status is Potentially Endangered (Kempinger 1988) and lake sturgeon are protected in all 18 states where the species historically occurred (Johnson 1987). Birstein et al. (1997) considered the lake sturgeon to be threatened and vulnerable in the United States and Canada. The lake sturgeon has been assessed as Least Concern by the IUCN (IUCN 2004).

Existing Status

Nature Conservancy Ranks (NatureServe 2004)

Global – G3


National – N3,
Regional: AL – SX, AR – S1, GA – SH, IL – S2, IN – S1, IA – S1, KY – S1, MI – S2, MN – S3, MO – S1, NE – S1, NY – S1S2, NC – SX, ND – SX, OH – S2S3, PA – S1, TN – S1, VT – S1, WV – SX, WI – S3


National – N4,
Regional: AB – S2S3, SK – S2, MB – S2S3, ON – S3, QC – S4

IUCN – Least Concern

CITES – Appendix II

AFS – Threatened

Wild Species 2005 (Canadian Endangered Species Council 2006)

National – 3
Regional: AB – 1, SK – 1, MB – 1, ON – 3, QC – 3

NAR 1986 (COSEWIC 2004);
Western populations Endangered 2005;
Lake of the Woods-Rainy River populations Special Concern May 2005;
Southern Hudson Bay-James Bay populations Special Concern 2005;
Great Lakes-Upper St Lawrence populations Special Concern 2005.