One of the most threatened remaining populations of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes is found in the connecting channels between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Only two spawning grounds are presently known to be active in this region, and both are in the St. Clair River. The spawning reef in the St. Clair River delta has been recently colonized by round gobies (Neogobius melanostomus) in densities up to 25/m2, raising concerns regarding predation on the benthic-oriented eggs and larvae of the sturgeon. Investigations in 1998–1999 showed that while round goby predation does occur, a number of other factors may be equally affecting sturgeon spawning success, including few spawning adults (< 60), suspected poaching pressure, low retention rate of eggs on the reef, low hatch rate (~0.5%), the presence of organic contaminants, and predation from native and exotic invertebrates and fish. Overall, we estimate that less than 1% of the eggs deposited during a spawning run survive to hatch. We were able to increase the egg hatch rate to 16% by placing eggs in predator-exclusion chambers on the reef. The fate of the larvae is uncertain. Two weeks after hatching, no larvae were found on the reef. We were unable to find them anywhere else in the river, nor was predation on larvae noted in either year. There were factors other than predation affecting larval survival in 1999. There was a higher silt load on the reef than in 1998 and large numbers of dead larvae were found. Recruitment success from this site could be improved by utilizing techniques to increase the number of eggs on the reef, such as reducing the illegal take of adult fish and by placing eggs in predator-exclusion chambers to increase hatch rate.
Additional publication details
Assessment of lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) spawning efforts in the lower St. Clair River, Michigan