Fisheries biologists remind anglers of sturgeon protection laws
RUTLAND, Vt. – Fisheries staff from Vermont Fish & Wildlife received a pleasant surprise recently while completing survey work on Lake Champlain in the form of a 48-year old lake sturgeon that biologists first studied and tagged nearly two decades ago.
"We first saw this fish in 1998 when it was roughly 29 years old," said Chet MacKenzie, fisheries biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. "It's a really interesting story to see this fish 19 years later, and another great example of the incredible longevity that the species is known for."
The male sturgeon, which weighed 69 pounds and measured 66.1 inches when it was first tagged in 1998, weighed 78 pounds and had a total length of 67.5 inches at the time of the most recent capture in late May.
"We recaptured this fish several times between 1998 and 2002," added MacKenzie. "This year we implanted an acoustic tag which will allow us to follow its movements for up to 10 years."
Sturgeon monitoring activities being carried out by Vermont Fish & Wildlife are part of the Department's Lake Champlain Sturgeon Recovery Plan which was enacted in 2016 and includes efforts to reduce mortality of lake sturgeon, improve spawning and nursery habitat and continue population assessment work.
Lake sturgeon, which are listed as an endangered species by the State of Vermont and are protected from harvest, are only found in Vermont in Lake Champlain and the lower sections of the Winooski, Lamoille and Missisquoi rivers, and Otter Creek. They are a unique, ancient form of fish that were first given complete protection by law in 1967. Lake Champlain has the only lake sturgeon population in New England.
The fish were historically more common in Lake Champlain, but declined rapidly in the 20th century due to over fishing, the loss of spawning and nursery habitat caused by the construction of dams and sea lamprey predation.
"We'd like to remind anglers that sturgeon are fully protected by Vermont law and any sturgeon caught must be released immediately," said MacKenzie. "Harvesting a lake sturgeon would result in the loss of an angler's fish and wildlife licenses in Vermont and most other states for up to three years, in addition to various potential fines."
MacKenzie encouraged anglers to help with the Lake Champlain sturgeon restoration effort by minimizing injuries to any accidentally caught sturgeon.
"If by chance an angler catches a sturgeon, we ask that they leave the sturgeon in the water and remove the hook if the fish is hooked in the mouth, but cut the line and leave the hook in place if the hook is swallowed," said MacKenzie. "Anglers can also help by choosing to change fishing locations or using a different bait in the event that they catch multiple sturgeon in a particular area."
Vermont Fish & Wildlife urges anglers to help population recovery efforts by reporting any sturgeon they catch to the Department at 802-878-1564, or by contacting their local fish and game warden or district office. Information obtained about sturgeon catches can be valuable to the Department's sampling efforts and to monitoring the trend in sturgeon abundance over time.
Anglers and members of the public are also asked to report illegal sturgeon harvest to law enforcement immediately by calling their local warden, a state police dispatch center or Operation Game Thief at 1-800-752-5378.
To learn more about Vermont's fisheries programs, fishing regulations, or to purchase a fishing license, visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com