by Corey Jerome
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (LRBOI) Natural Resources Department has intensively evaluated and managed the Big Manistee River lake sturgeon population for 15 years. The LRBOI sturgeon program aims to meet the goals and objectives of the Nmé (Lake Sturgeon) Stewardship Plan which was implemented in 2007.
A major element of the plan, and thus the sturgeon program, requires the use of culturally derived principles along with biological information during sturgeon restoration. The LRBOI operates a streamside rearing facility (SRF) which integrates both of these elements. We carefully collect young sturgeon in the Big Manistee River, place them in rearing tanks and raise them with natal river water. We release them when they are large enough to experience high survival.
The collection methods we use allow for the natural selection of spawning mates within the river since we start with naturally deposited and fertilized eggs or naturally drifting larval sturgeon. These methods integrate historical cultural aspects of respect for the sturgeon while meeting the biological requirements necessary to assist in the rehabilitation of the population.
Rearing fish in their natal waters facilitates imprinting of the sturgeon so as adults they will return to those waters to spawn and preserve the unique genetics of the population.
Another program component requires that we monitor population status including year-class recruitment, survival, and genetics by conducting nighttime visual surveys. While doing so, we also document juvenile sturgeon interactions with sea lamprey control efforts.
During sea lamprey treatments in 2013 and 2014 on the Manistee and Muskegon rivers respectively, technicians documented high mortality of juvenile sturgeons within the two rivers. During the summer of 2016, the Manistee River was treated again for larval sea lampreys. This time, prior to the treatment, personnel from LRBOI, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MIDNR) sampled and removed juvenile sturgeon from the river. Crews in 4 boats removed a total of 117 sturgeon in the course of a week. We held all collected fish within the SRF until the threat from the sea lamprey treatment was past.
We then conducted a post treatment assessment and documented a mortality event collecting ten dead sturgeon in one nighttime visual survey. We assume the 117 healthy sturgeon held within the SRF represent a large portion of the 2016 year class of lake sturgeon within the Manistee River. Currently the Muskegon River is scheduled for a larval sea lamprey treatment in the summer of 2017. We are planning a similar collaboration to assist the 2017 year class of Muskegon River lake sturgeon.
Every year since 2003 the LRBOI has held a ceremony in the fall where individuals from the regional community surrounding Manistee release streamside reared sturgeon by hand back into the Big Manistee River. For each of the 13 release ceremonies the LRBOI and friends have realized a major goal toward stewardship and the restoration of harmony and connectivity between Nmé and the people. It has proven to be effective in bringing them both back to the river. To date we have released over 1000 juvenile sturgeon from the SRF.
Additionally LRBOI is in the process of implementing an adult assessment project focused on sturgeon that were part of the rearing process in the beginning stages of the program. We assume they will now be maturing and beginning their first spawning migrations within the Manistee River. An important component of the stewardship plan requires that we evaluate the return rate of SRF reared sturgeon to the Manistee River.
To satisfy this requirement, LRBOI plans to implement a novel approach to lake sturgeon assessments in the great lakes region with the use of a temporary resistance board weir. Researchers have used these structures in Alaska and along the West Coast to assess threatened and endangered steelhead and salmon with great success. The first known temporary resistance board weir in the Great Lakes region was implemented in Lake Ontario to assist with Atlantic Salmon Restoration.
While no one has used this technology for sturgeon it clearly represents a great option for collecting biological data in remote areas with a temporary structure. LRBOI hopes to sample a majority of adult sturgeon returning to the river by implementing this assessment and thereby provide a detailed picture of the adult population and the return rates of lake sturgeon previously released from the SRF.
As you have been reading this article you may be wondering a bit about the author. I am Corey Jerome, a fisheries biologist with LRBOI. My primary responsibility is to implement and oversee the lake sturgeon program. I have been with LRBOI since the winter of 2012 and before that spent a summer with them in 2007 as an intern on the lake sturgeon program. I received my bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Management from Lake Superior State University in 2009. Ever since my summer internship, I have wanted to return to the Manistee River and surrounding area to assist in natural resource management. To be able to return in such a short time has been a blessing. Working in the Northern Lower Peninsula on sturgeon populations and restoration has been great. Both the beauty of the area and majestic nature of sturgeon can’t be found in my belief anywhere else in the US.
About the Author: Corey Jerome
Corey is currently the Fisheries Biologist for the Little River Band of The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (LRBOI) Natural Resources Department. He is primarily responsible for evaluating and managing the lake sturgeon population in the Big Manistee River. His program aims to meet the goals and objectives of the Nmé (Lake Sturgeon) Stewardship Plan as implemented in 2007.