Species Profile

Lake Sturgeon Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence populations

Scientific Name: Acipenser fulvescens
Other/Previous Names: Lake Sturgeon (Great Lakes - Western St. Lawrence populations),Lake Sturgeon (Great Lakes and Western St. Lawrence populations),Lake Sturgeon (Great Lakes and Western St. Lawrence River populations)
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2017
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: Meets Endangered, A2b, but designated Threatened, A2b, because a portion of the unit is showing signs of improvement.
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This is one of the largest, longest-lived, freshwater fish species in Canada and has special significance to Indigenous Peoples. The main reasons for historical declines in most populations, harvesting and dams, are clearly reversible and understood, but have not ceased in all populations. Some populations appear not to have been severely impacted and some populations appear to be recovering but are not yet secure.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: The species was considered a single unit and designated Not at Risk in April 1986. When the species was split into separate units in May 2005, the "Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence populations" unit was designated Special Concern. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in November 2006. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 2017.
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd):

No schedule - No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Description

The Lake Sturgeon is one of five sturgeon species found in Canada. It is one of Canada’s largest freshwater fishes. Lake Sturgeon has a pointed snout, ventral protrusible mouth, four barbels in front of the mouth, five rows of bony scutes, and a heterocercal tail. The Lake Sturgeon has a rich historical significance to First Nations peoples and was also commercially harvested across much of the species’ range between the late-1800s and mid-1900s. The St. Lawrence River in Quebec supports the only remaining commercial fishery. Aboriginal fisheries are ongoing. Caviar, made from Lake Sturgeon eggs, is still highly prized. Lake Sturgeon is also sought by trophy anglers (where permitted; predominantly catch-and-release) in many locations. [Updated 2018-02-19]

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Distribution and Population

The Canadian range stretches from the North and South Saskatchewan rivers in Alberta in the west, to the St. Lawrence River estuary in the east, and from various rivers that empty into Hudson Bay in the north to several boundary waters (e.g., Rainy River, Great Lakes) in the south. The majority of Lake Sturgeon populations in Canada declined precipitously over a period of ~150 years beginning in the 18th century. Some of the well-studied populations appear to be rebounding, with several populations consisting of tens of thousands of individuals and others likely approaching carrying capacity. Still, a sizable proportion of populations have yet to exhibit meaningful signs of population recovery, and the species has disappeared from some formerly inhabited areas. [Updated 2018-02-19]

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Habitat

The range of the Lake Sturgeon spans four freshwater biogeographic zones and six terrestrial ecozones. The species occupies a wide variety of aquatic ecosystem types (e.g., stepped-gradient Boreal Shield rivers, low-gradient meandering Prairie rivers, low gradient Hudson lowland rivers, Great Lakes and associated tributaries). Habitat Requirements Lake Sturgeon requires a variety of habitats to complete its lifecycle, and the species has evolved to exploit typical upstream to downstream hydraulic and substrate gradients. Spawning habitat is typically characterized by fast-moving water found at the base of falls, rapids, or dams. Hatch is contingent on aeration by flowing water, after which larvae apparently require gravel substrate in which to bury and remain while development continues. Once the yolk sac is absorbed, larvae drift downstream via water currents. Habitat requirements at the age-0 stage are not well understood, but may not be as strict as previously assumed. Aside from the requirement of adequate benthic prey items, the habitat requirements for middle to later life stages (juveniles and adults) are not particularly narrow. Habitat Trends Habitat trends vary across the species’ range. In some areas, the construction of dams has ceased but, in other areas, it is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. Sediment and water quality has improved in many areas formerly impacted by pollution from the pulp-and-paper industry. [Updated 2018-02-19]

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Biology

General The Lake Sturgeon is a benthic generalist, whose forage base diversifies as body size increases. Reproduction Spawning occurs during spring and has been observed at water temperatures ranging from 8-21.5°C. Females are attended to by multiple males, and males may spawn with multiple females during a given year. Eggs are broadcast into the water column, and those fertilized develop a sticky exterior and adhere to the substrate. Age at maturity for males is generally in the range of 12-20 years, and 15-30 years for females. Males generally spawn every 1-3 years, and females every 2-7 years. Recruitment Inter-annual recruitment across the species’ range is often variable or erratic, apparently influenced by biological, environmental, and anthropogenic factors. Survival There is low survival to age-1. Once age-1 has been reached, annual survival may be very high, barring anthropogenic influences. Physiology Maximum thermal tolerance of Lake Sturgeon is believed to be in the range of 28- 30°C.In terms of cold tolerance, the species can survive temperatures of 0°C for up to 6 months. Lake Sturgeon occupies rivers characterized by a wide range of turbidity, clarity, and oxygen levels. Lake Sturgeon is known to move into estuarine environments, but the species has a low salinity tolerance. Movements/Dispersal Movement patterns of Lake Sturgeon are driven by the physical separation of habitats needed to complete life-history processes. In low-gradient systems, the species may need to migrate hundreds of kilometres between spawning, foraging, and overwintering habitats. In stepped-gradient systems, habitat diversity can occur over small spatial scales and recruiting populations are known to occur in hydroelectric reservoirs as small as 10 km in length. Furthermore, genetic results indicate populations historically occurred in small, naturally fragmented sections of several large stepped-gradient riverine systems for thousands of years. Dispersal is limited to connected wetted habitats, with volitional movement (primarily by adults) and passive downstream redistribution of larvae being the primary natural processes that influence inter-population dynamics. [Updated 2018-02-19]

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Threats

Threats to sustainability and/or impediments to recovery of Lake Sturgeon populations include harvest, habitat alterations (primarily due to dams), barriers to migration (dams), entrainment losses (dams), invasive species, and pollution. [Updated 2018-02-19]

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Protection

Federal Protection

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Team

Essex-Erie Recovery Team

  • Shawn Staton - Chair/Contact - Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    Phone: 905-336-4864  Fax: 905-336-6437  Send Email

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

12 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and status report on the Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), Four populations in Canada (2018-01-17)

    The Lake Sturgeon is one of five sturgeon species found in Canada. It is one of Canada’s largest freshwater fishes. Lake Sturgeon has a pointed snout, ventral protrusible mouth, four barbels in front of the mouth, five rows of bony scutes, and a heterocercal tail.
  • COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in Canada (2007-08-27)

    The sturgeon family (Acipenseridae) contains 24 species, five of which are found in Canadian waters. Four of these are anadromous (spending part of the life cycle in freshwater and part in marine environments) and one, the lake sturgeon, is found only in fresh water. This species is one of Canada’s largest freshwater fishes with an extended snout, ventral mouth with four pendulous barbels, and a body covering of hard scutes and smaller denticles, rather than scales. This species reaches an age in excess of 100 years, lengths of up to 3 m and weights up to 180 kg.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Lake Sturgeon, Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence populations (2007-12-04)

    A very large commercial fishery existed in the Great Lakes between the mid-1800s and early 1900s (i.e. 2-3 generations ago) during which time populations of this species were reduced to a small fraction of their original size, and appear to be still at very low levels. Populations appear to be declining in parts of the Ottawa River, and disappearing from many of its tributaries due to dams. There has been a recent decline in the population in the St. Lawrence River probably due to over-exploitation despite recovery efforts. The direct and indirect effects of dams, chemical control of sea lamprey, contaminants and invasive species currently threaten populations.
  • Response Statement - Lake Sturgeon, Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence populations (2018-01-18)

    This is one of the largest, longest-lived, freshwater fish species in Canada and has special significance to Indigenous Peoples. The main reasons for historical declines in most populations, harvesting and dams, are clearly reversible and understood, but have not ceased in all populations. Some populations appear not to have been severely impacted and some populations appear to be recovering but are not yet secure.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) and Fathom Five National Marine Park (FFNMP) lie at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. The peninsula is 90 km in length and its most prominent feature is the Niagara Escarpment which runs along the entire eastern edge. Within BPNP, the escarpment forms the Georgian Bay shoreline and is recognized as part of the core area of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  BPNP was established by the federal government in 1987 to protect a representative example of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands natural region. Because of the fragmented nature of the park properties, many of the stresses on the park’s ecosystem originate from outside its boundaries. For this reason, First Nations, local residents, non-governmental organizations, and other groups and land users play an important role in managing, restoring, and protecting the northern Bruce ecosystem. 
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Pukaskwa National Park of Canada (2017-04-28)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Pukaskwa National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the park. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at Pukaskwa National Park (PNP).

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2005 (2005-08-12)

    2005 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 (2007-08-30)

    2007 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2016 to 2017 (2017-10-24)

    Over the past year COSEWIC re-examined the status of 40 wildlife species; of these, the majority (78 %) were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. Of a total of 73 species assessed 11 were assigned the status of Not at Risk (8 re-assessments and 3 new assessments). To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 735 wildlife species in various risk categories including 321 Endangered, 172 Threatened, 219 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated (i.e. - no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition 16 species have been assessed as Extinct, 58 have been designated as Data Deficient and 186 were assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation Workbook on the addition of the Lake Sturgeon (8 designatable Units) to the SARA List (2007-12-27)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the (Lake Sturgeon (8 designatable Units) to the Schedule 1 (the List of Wildlife Species at Risk) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Your input on the impacts of adding this species to the List is important. This workbook has been developed to give you an opportunity to provide Fisheries and Oceans Canada with your feedback, advice, and other comments regarding adding this species to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA). Click here for the Cree version of the document in PDF. In addition to the original consultation period which ran from 2007-12-27 to 2008-04-25, the consultation response period for Lake Sturgeon populations within DU1, DU2, DU3, DU4, DU5, and DU8 has been extended from 2011-11-15 to 2012-03-31 to allow adequate time to complete the process.
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