10 Facts About an Ancient Fish
Lake sturgeon are living fossils in a very modern world.
Young sturgeon raised in Milwaukee and destined for wild release. Credit: © Bob Rashid, please obtain permission when using this image
- The lake sturgeon is the largest fish in the Great Lakes and is considered a living fossil because it has survived—virtually unchanged—for more than 150 million years.
- Female lake sturgeon are 21-39 years old before they first spawn, an event they repeat only once every three to five years.
- Lake sturgeon can grow to be more than 300 pounds and live to be more than 100 years old. They can reach a length of 9 feet.
- Lake sturgeon were once so numerous in the Great Lakes that commercial fishermen saw them as a nuisance fish. Today, because of overfishing, pollution and a loss of habitat, lake sturgeon are struggling to survive. For example, in Lake Michigan, scientists estimate only 5,000 adult sturgeon remain, well below 1 percent of the most conservative estimates of historic numbers.
- In the late 1800s, caviar made from the eggs of Great Lakes sturgeon was sold to Europe, where it was relabeled and sold back to the United States as “Russian caviar.”
- Large, fertile female lake sturgeon can contain up to 60 pounds of eggs.
- During spawning season, a female lake sturgeon produces up to a half a million eggs. Only a few will survive to become adults.
- Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago is home to the world’s largest population of lake sturgeon.
- Wisconsin has been managing the Winnebago lake sturgeon population since 1903.
- Lake sturgeon rehabilitation efforts are underway on all of the Great Lakes.