WCS Canada

Lake Sturgeon

Fast Facts:

Scientific Name: Acipenser fulvescens

  • Lake sturgeon can grow to 396 lbs., 3 meters, and well over 100 years old! 
  • Lake sturgeon are likened to living dinosaurs as they are a remnant of an ancient and primitive group of fish that have cartilaginous skeletons, sharp bony plates in their skin, prehensile lips surrounded by sensory barbels with taste buds, and no teeth.
  • As large, long-lived fish that feed on small organisms such as insect larvae, worms, and leeches, their role in lakes is similar to that of large filter-feeding marine mammals in the oceans.

Lake sturgeon are the only species of sturgeon in Canada to complete their life cycle entirely in freshwater. They live in large river systems, spawn in swift currents, and are known to migrate long distances (up to 300 km). Commercial fishing for food, caviar, and other uses reduced some populations to approximately 1% of their historic levels. Now that fishing has declined, barriers such as dams and hydroelectric facilities are considered to be the greatest threats to the survival of lake sturgeon.  These facilities decrease water flows for spawning, restrict access to critical habitat, and divide populations. 

Northern Ontario serves as a potential refuge for lake sturgeon that are threatened or endangered in more southern parts of Canada. However, the threat of increased development in the previously undeveloped North poses a new risk to these populations.


Effects of Dams on Lake Sturgeon Populations

WCS is modeling the impacts of dams and fishing on lake sturgeon. This research allows us to determine how the genetic diversity of these animals is affected by dam construction over time, and by the population declines that occur as a result.

What Genes Can Tell Us

To help us understand more about lake sturgeon declines, WCS is examining the utility of genetic sampling -- which has emerged as a promising conservation tool -- for measuring the degree of human impacts on sturgeon populations. The results of this research will help us understand the value of genetic data in informing wildlife conservation, as well as the limitations of this technique, particularly for long-lived species such as sturgeon.

Key Staff

Constance O'Connor
Associate Conservation Scientist
Cheryl Chetkiewicz
Associate Conservation Scientist
All Lake Sturgeon Staff >>

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WCS Canada - Thunder Bay
10 Cumberland Street North Thunder Bay, Ontario, P7A 4K9
(807) 285-9125