Spurring new Maumee sturgeon

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TOLEDO (13abc Action News) - An ancient fish nearly disappeared from Lake Erie.

Decades ago, there were nearly one million lake sturgeon in the waters of Lake Erie. But the last one to show up in the Maumee River was in 2008. Now a new program looks to reintroduce them to their home.

"So it truly is a portion of our Ohio heritage that we've lost," Kent Bekker said.

"They're not going to come back on their own," Jessica Sherman said.

That's why UT, the Toledo Zoo, and other groups want to open a stream-side hatchery off of Clark Island. That island is near the zoo. They'll soon find out if they got a $90,000 grant to help the endangered giant.

"They're one of the oldest species that we have in the Great Lakes," Sherman said. She's a PhD candidate at UT helping to pioneer sturgeon work in Toledo.

"So they've been around since the time of the dinosaurs, over 150 million years.

Sturgeon can grow up to seven feet long and some live over 100 years. The problem is, that they take at least 15 years to spawn.

"Historically they were over-harvested for their caviar but also for their meat," Sherman said.

"There has not been a reproducing population since then," Bekker said. Bekker is the manager of Wild Toledo. That's the conservation arm of the Toledo Zoo.

Just like salmon, sturgeon return to their home river to breed. They can't just be released as adults. The plan is to hatch them in Maumee River water. Then 3,000 tiny fish will be released each fall.

"And yes, we do believe that when reintroduced with the Maumee River, that even the changes that have occurred there with the dams and the shipping channels… that they will still be able to survive," Sherman said.

"The Maumee River is really in a cleaner state then it was historically, I think a lot of people would have a lot of interest in seeing these large fish spawning in the river," Bekker said.

25% of the Maumee River is suitable for the sturgeon spawn.