Researchers caught a whopper of a lake sturgeon at New York’s Cayuga Lake in October. The 154-pound, 6-foot, 5-inch fish, netted by New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) biologists conducting a population survey, was nearly twice as big as the largest sturgeon previously caught at Cayuga. It was only 5 pounds lighter than a sturgeon thought to be the largest ever encountered in New York. That fish, captured last year by researchers at Oneida Lake, weighed 159.4 pounds and was estimated to be 26 years old.
The lake sturgeon is New York’s largest freshwater fish, but it’s off-limits to recreational anglers. Nearly wiped out in the late 1800s by overfishing, dams, and pollution, the threatened species is protected in the Empire State, where it is the subject of a restoration effort that began in 1992. Since then, New York has stocked 300,000 sturgeon in waterways where they once thrived, including Oneida, Cayuga, and selected tributaries of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Many of these hatchery-raised fish carry passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags that help scientists monitor sturgeon movement and growth. Researchers also tag any wild lake sturgeon they catch during their netting surveys—as they did with the recently captured 6-foot, 5-incher.
“Acoustic tags are scanned by receivers located throughout the lake and are picked up as the fish swim past, providing an understanding of where the fish are moving through the lake,” Emily Zollweg-Horan, NYDEC senior aquatic biologist, told the Syracuse Post Standard. She says the 66-square-mile Cayuga Lake has 42 tagged sturgeon out of an estimated population of 400, which is considered a major step toward recovery. The NYDEC is expected to release a full progress report next year.
One obstacle to the species’ comeback is its slow maturation rate. Males reach sexual maturity at 8 to 19 years old, and females at 14 to 23 years old. That said, lake sturgeon are also one of the longest-lived freshwater fish, and females are known to survive 80-plus years.
New York fishing regulations prohibit intentionally targeting lake sturgeon, and any that are accidentally hooked by recreational anglers must be released immediately. Though considered threatened or endangered in nearly every U.S. state where they are found, lake sturgeon are subject to limited recreational fishing in some states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The IGFA all-tackle world record is a 168-pound lake sturgeon caught in Georgian Bay, Ontario in May 1982.