Lake Sturgeon: Lake Champlain’s Living Fossil
Lake sturgeon are one of Vermont’s most fascinating fish and have existed as a species for over 150 million years! These prehistoric living dinosaurs are relics of another era with many features that make them easy to identify and hard to confuse with other species. First distinction — their size! Adult lake sturgeon will regularly reach three to five feet in length and some can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh over 300 pounds. In Lake Champlain, department biologists have measured lake sturgeon that were just shy of 7 feet and 160 pounds!
Much like catfish, lake sturgeon have whisker-like barbels they use to feel for food. They spend much of their time in relatively shallow water cruising over soft lake bottoms searching for food items such as insect larvae, worms, leeches, crayfish, snails, and clams. A lake sturgeon’s tube-like mouth is set far back on the underside of its head and is thrust out to vacuum food off the bottom.
Sturgeon were commonly observed in the lake until the 1940’s and 50’s. Unfortunately, over-fishing, habitat loss in the rivers that were used as spawning and nursery grounds, and the introduction of non-native species caused their numbers to plummet, ultimately leading to their listing as an Endangered Species under Vermont Law.
Because they are a Vermont-listed Endangered Species, it is illegal to target, harass, or disturb lake sturgeon. To help protect the lake sturgeon population, anglers should be especially cautious when fishing in areas where lake sturgeon may be present, such as in spawning rivers in the spring. Consider using these tactics to reduce the risk of a lake sturgeon being caught and harmed:
- Use barbless hooks if fishing with live bait
- Avoid fishing bait on the bottom in deep pools
- Stop fishing and move to a different location if a lake sturgeon is caught
- Never remove a sturgeon from the water
- Report any violations you see to a Game Warden
Following these tips will help lake sturgeon populations recover to a point where these fascinating and unique fish are no longer endangered!
For more info on Lake Champlain sturgeon restoration, check out our Lake Champlain Lake Sturgeon Recovery Plan at vtfishandwildlife.com.