Lake Sturgeon: Fascinating Fish

by Emily Giles and Mathieu Lebel
In our opinion, it is difficult to find a species as fascinating as the Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens). They’re one of the largest freshwater fish in Canada (they can attain over 3m in length (10 feet) and 180kg in weight (400 pounds)), can live over 100 years, and are a member of a family of fish that has existed and changed very little since the age of dinosaurs.  To really get a sense of the Lake Sturgeon, check out this clip from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Lake Sturgeon are found in many of the lakes and rivers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Despite their name, they are adapted to and rely on rivers during all or part of their lives.

Lake Sturgeon © Eric Engbretson Underwater Photography/WWF-Canada. Lake Sturgeon migrate and can move large distances (some over 100km) to spawn, which generally occurs when males reach 14-22 years and females reach 14-33 years.
They were once common across much of Canada. However, past commercial fishing, and more recently habitat loss and altered water flows associated with dams, and degraded water quality resulting from poor land use practices have caused severe reductions in their numbers. Many Lake Sturgeon populations have been designated as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and are now being considered for federal legal protection under the Species at Risk Act. The four other species of the sturgeon family found in Canada (White, Green, Shortnose, and Atlantic) are also in decline, as is the case throughout the world.

Ventral view of Lake Sturgeon showing mouth and barbels  © Shane Petry/Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Lake Sturgeon are primarily a bottom-dwelling species using barbels to sense the environment and to locate food.
Because Sturgeon need healthy rivers to survive, they have been described as very large “canaries in the coal mine” for river ecosystems. Survival and recovery of Lake Sturgeon is dependent upon maintaining their habitat including the conservation, protection and restoration of environmental flow regimes, to ensure that nature has the water it needs for healthy ecosystems.  The idea of protecting water for nature is central to WWF’s Freshwater program.
Internationally, sturgeon are priority species for WWF.  That means that conservation efforts focused on Sturgeon will also help other species that share their habitats and/or are vulnerable to the same threats.
Ultimately, conserving, protecting, and restoring Lake Sturgeon populations go hand in hand with conserving, protecting, and restoring river habitats. And WWF is committed to doing just that.