Volunteers guard giant sturgeon on Black River
CHEBOYGAN COUNTY, Mi (WPBN/WGTU) -- This time of year, sturgeon make their way from Black Lake in Cheboygan County to the Black River to mate.
A group of people camp out and stay on the banks of the river to guard them.
Up until the 1990's, sturgeon were the target of a lot of poachers, which has put the species in danger.
Some sturgeon in the Black River exceed 100 years old and 100 pounds.
Those are usually the ones targeted by poachers.
“About the 60's to the late 90’s is when the sturgeon poaching dramatically increased and through that the departments started seeing declines in the fishery,” said Sgt. Mark DePew, from the Department of Natural Resources.
To help the DNR stop the poaching, groups like "Sturgeon for Tomorrow" were started.
Every spring they camp out on the banks of the Black River to keep an eye on the big fish.
“When they reach this size right here, the fish is invaluable to our population and just to take it out just for the sake of taking it out is atrocious," said Gil Archambo, a member of the group. "That fish, we’ll say is a hundred years old.”
Also on the river, there is a sturgeon hatchery run by Michigan State University.
“What we’re able to do here in the hatchery is move the fish past that stage where they’re vulnerable to predation to a size where they’re more likely to survive their first winter,” said Doug Larson, one of the researchers.
Before they become giants like the ones in the Black River, they have to be hatched from tiny eggs that look like caviar.
“The fact that these people donate their time to protect the resource, the sturgeon, is so important to us," DePew said. "It frees up an officer, it puts more eyes and ear out there. Basically they’re instructed if they see something suspicious to gather as much information as they can and immediately contact a conservation officer.”
You can still fish for sturgeon, but only for a short time during the winter. Any other fishing in the area is considered poaching and is illegal.
Someone caught poaching sturgeon can face a minimum of 30 days in jail, or up to $3,000 in fines.