Volunteers needed to help guard Michigan's sturgeon

Michigan's Sturgeon


The Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow in Cheboygan County is seeking volunteers to join in its effort, in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, to help protect lake sturgeon from illegal harvest during the annual spawning run.

Every spring mature lake sturgeon, a fish species that is threatened in Michigan and rare throughout the U.S., become vulnerable to poaching as they briefly leave Black Lake for spawning sites in the Black River. Hundreds of volunteers are needed to stand guard along the Black River during the spawning season, from mid-April through early June, to report any suspicious activity and deter the unlawful take of this iconic fish.

“Lake sturgeon are a unique species in Michigan, as they can live up to 100 years and weigh more than 200 pounds,” said Dave Borgeson, Northern Lake Huron Management Unit supervisor with the DNR. “Their journey through the Black River is critical to their long-term success, and volunteers are necessary to ensure it’s a safe trip.”

When spawning begins, sturgeon guards are assigned in shifts to sites along the river. The volunteers stand watch and, if suspicious activity occurs, use cellular phones provided by Sturgeon for Tomorrow to contact DNR conservation officers who are actively patrolling the area in support of the guarding effort. Aerial surveillance is also deployed to help secure the area.

“For more than 15 years, the annual Sturgeon Guarding Program has proven that people serving as sturgeon guards watching over the river have greatly reduced poaching while helping to ensure the protection and reproductive success of the species,” said Ann Feldhauser, a DNR retiree and the guarding program’s volunteer coordinator.

Many opportunities over the approximately six-week-long spawning season are available for those who wish to help. Coordinators will be on-site at the river to assist and answer questions. In addition to guarding the sturgeon, volunteers can also play a key role by recording the number and activity of fish they see. This has become a popular activity for families, scouting and church groups, as well as students interested in natural resource management.

Individuals or groups interested in volunteering should contact Mark and Ann Feldhauser at 906-201-2484 or 906-346-9511.

Volunteers can also register online at SturgeonForTomorrow.org. Those interested can also find the Sturgeon for Tomorrow Black Lake Chapter online via its website or Facebook page.  

For those traveling from outside the local area, several hotels, restaurants and Onaway State Park (located on Black Lake, with improved camping and cabin rentals) are very close to the key guarding locations.

Volunteers also are encouraged to set up their rustic camps along the banks of the Black River. Several good camping sites are available, and there is no charge for camping on the state land adjacent to the Black River.

Lake sturgeon rehabilitation in the Cheboygan River watershed is a cooperative effort involving the Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow, the Department of Natural Resources, Michigan State University and Tower-Kleber Limited Partnership. In addition to the guarding program, this rehabilitation effort includes activities such as tagging sturgeon adults and raising young fish for stocking in Black, Burt and Mullett lakes.

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