Ontario moves to protect sturgeon

    McGuinty Government Restricts Harvest In Both Recreational And
    Commercial Fisheries

    TORONTO, June 27 /CNW/ -


    As of July 1, 2008, recreational anglers will no longer be allowed to
keep any lake sturgeon they catch.
    Evidence shows that overharvesting is a major factor in putting the
species at risk. As a result, only catch and release of this species will be
    Traditional use of lake sturgeon by Aboriginal peoples for subsistence
and ceremonial purposes will not be affected.
    This change will affect 16 of the 20 Fisheries Management Zones in the
province. Two zones already have zero catch and possession limits and two
zones have closed seasons.

    To further protect the species
      -  no recreational fishing for lake sturgeon will be permitted on the
         Mississagi River
      -  the province will reduce the commercial fishing quotas across the
         province to zero in 2009.

    Ontario's lake sturgeon has declined considerably over the last century,
with only about 100 water systems now supporting viable sturgeon populations.
    The ministry will be consulting with stakeholders and Aboriginal people
to develop a long-term province-wide management strategy that will address
issues affecting the sustainability of sturgeon populations.


    "Overharvesting of lake sturgeon is a serious threat to its
sustainability," said Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield
(http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/About/2ColumnSubPage/226953.html). "We are taking
action in Ontario to protect the long-term health and recovery of this


      -  The lake sturgeon is the largest and longest lived of any of
         Canada's freshwater species.

      -  An adult sturgeon can reach a length of 2.5 metres, weigh more than
         150 kilograms and live more than 100 years.


    - Find out more about lake sturgeon

                                                      Disponible en français


                           LAKE STURGEON IN ONTARIO

    Lake sturgeon is Ontario's only member of the sturgeon family and the
province's largest freshwater fish species. Some sturgeon can weigh over 150
kilograms and live over 100 years.
    Ontario lake sturgeon populations have been greatly reduced and even
disappeared completely from many locations over the last century. As of
June 30, 2008, they will be listed as a Species of Special Concern in Ontario.
There are now only about 100 water systems in Ontario that support viable lake
sturgeon populations.
    Recently, the harvest and illegal sale of sturgeon in certain parts of
Ontario has increased considerably.
    The Ministry of Natural Resources is putting in place an immediate zero
catch and possession limit on recreational fisheries for sturgeon and is
moving to a zero harvest limit on commercial fisheries in 2009 to protect the
provincial population from overharvest.
    The Ministry of Natural Resources is also closing the sturgeon fishery on
the Mississagi River to protect the population from overharvest.
    Traditional use of lake sturgeon by Aboriginal people for subsistence and
cultural purposes will not be affected. Where Aboriginal individuals and
communities are harvesting commercially, the ministry will work with them to
ensure that lake sturgeon populations can be managed sustainably.
    Unless steps are taken to protect lake sturgeon, harvest levels are
projected to increase considerably across the province. In part, this is due
to the collapse of the Caspian Sea sturgeon fishery and ongoing demand for
sturgeon caviar fed by illegal sale.
    To guide management over the longer term, the ministry is also launching
a project to develop a provincial sturgeon management strategy. This strategy
will address all major issues affecting the sustainability of Ontario's
sturgeon populations. Stakeholders and First Nations will be consulted during
the development of the strategy.

    Steve Kerr, Fish Community Ecologist,  ontario.ca/natural-resources-news
    705-755-1205                                      Disponible en français

                                Lake Sturgeon
                 An important part of Ontario's Biodiversity

    Biology of Lake Sturgeon

    Sturgeon have often been described as a "living dinosaur" because of
their prehistoric appearance. They have existed on the earth for at least 200
million years, back to a time when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and have
changed very little since that time.
    Lake sturgeon are Ontario's largest and longest living species of
freshwater fish. They can grow to lengths of 2.5 metres (over eight feet) and
weigh a staggering 150 kilograms (330 pounds).
    They are found throughout Ontario, especially in the Great Lakes and
their tributary rivers and the large rivers in the north. However, they are no
longer found in many waters in their historic range.
    Sturgeon can live up to 100 years or more. They are slow-growing and take
a long time to reach reproductive age. Females spawn for the first time at 15
to 25 years of age, with males spawning at a slightly younger age. Once a
female sturgeon has reached spawning age, she will only spawn once every five
to nine years. This means a sturgeon hatched today likely won't spawn for the
first time until 2030.
    Despite being named lake sturgeon, these fish are also dependent on
rivers. They reproduce and live significant parts of their lives in rivers;
their bodies are shaped to move along the bottom of shallow, moving waters.
Since these fish grow to a large size, they need plentiful food sources found
in bigger rivers and connected lakes. Lake sturgeon generally live on the
bottom, feeding on aquatic insects, mussels, crayfish, and small fishes.
    The lake sturgeon can move distances of 100 kilometres or more to access
the right habitats. In the spring, adult lake sturgeon migrate upstream to
spawn in areas of fast water such as rapids, chutes or waterfalls, usually at
the same locations where they were hatched.
    Its long life span, slow growth and relatively slow reproduction rates
make the lake sturgeon vulnerable to overharvest.

    History as a Resource

    Lake sturgeon have been important to humans in Ontario for thousands of
years. The lake sturgeon had both cultural and subsistence importance to First
Nations peoples. All parts of the fish were used: the meat was used for food;
the skin was used as a container to store oil; and the pointed bones along the
back were used as arrow heads. Today, lake sturgeon continue to be revered
both culturally and as a valued food source to First Nations peoples.
    Early settlers considered sturgeon a nuisance fish because they damaged
their nets. They killed large numbers of fish and burnt them as fuel. By the
late 1800s, they began to value the sturgeon for its flesh and caviar. By the
early 1900s, this led to large increases in its harvest.
    Around 1879 to 1900, commercial harvest peaked at 4,900 metric tons
(10.8 million pounds). It is estimated by the 1930s as much as 80 per cent of
the sturgeon had been removed from some of the Great Lakes. Commercial
harvesters moved to inland lakes and rivers as Great Lake populations
    The development of dams throughout the 20th century blocked access to
spawning habitat and caused direct mortality of adult sturgeon. Pollution in
the Great Lakes has reduced the survival of sturgeon. Logging and agricultural
practices produced silt that damaged spawning habitat. All of these factors
have left sturgeon populations at only a fraction of what they once were. They
have vanished from many areas and are now found in about 100 water systems in
the province.

    Species at Risk

    The sturgeon populations in the locations listed below are currently
being considered for listing as a species at risk by the federal government as

      -  Endangered: the Red-Assiniboine Rivers-Lake Winnipeg (including the
         Berens River in Ontario) and Winnipeg River-English River
      -  Threatened: the Great Lakes - Lake Ontario and Upper St. Lawrence
      -  Special Concern: Lake of the Woods - Rainy River and Southern Hudson
         Bay-James Bay

    The federal government is currently conducting consultation before
deciding if lake sturgeon populations will be legally listed under the federal
Species at Risk Act.
    Under Ontario's new Endangered Species Act, 2007, lake sturgeon are
listed as a species of special concern in Ontario as of June 30, 2008.

    New threats - Global Caviar Demand

    Historically, the Caspian Sea supplied 90 per cent of the world's caviar.
Since 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a
dramatic increase in poaching for Caspian Sea sturgeon. These populations are
now expected to be extinct by 2020.
    In Ontario, there has recently been a notable increase in angling effort
and in particular the harvest of sturgeon from rivers that are known to have
productive populations. The recent harvest levels in some areas are too high
for local populations to sustain. There is concern that the increased demand
will threaten provincial sturgeon populations.

    What is Ontario Doing?

    The Ministry of Natural Resources has closed the sturgeon fishery on the
Mississagi River, put in place a provincial zero catch and possession limit on
recreational fisheries for sturgeon and is moving to a zero harvest limit on
commercial fisheries in 2009 to protect the provincial population from
    Aboriginal harvest of the lake sturgeon for subsistence and ceremonial
purposes will continue where it is sustainable. Where Aboriginal individuals
and communities are harvesting commercially, the ministry will work with them
to ensure that lake sturgeon populations can be managed sustainably.
    An Ontario-wide lake sturgeon fisheries management strategy will be
developed and include consultations with stakeholders and Aboriginal
    The ministry, in partnerships with industry, academia, First Nations and
several non-governmental organizations, is conducting research and assessment
work to better understand sturgeon populations in the province. Research
topics include genetics work, evaluation of spawning success, radio tracking,
estimating population size and development of strategies to reduce the impacts
of hydroelectric developments.

    Steve Kerr, Fish Community Ecologist, 705-755-1205        ontario.ca/mnr

For further information:

For further information: David Bauer, Minister's Office, (416) 314-2212;
Barry Radford, Communications Services Branch, (416) 314-0652

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