Lake sturgeon are living fossils

The Lake Sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America, and it has been sought after for centuries.
We know that this fish has been around for about 136 million years—since the time of the dinosaurs.
It is not a nice-looking fish at all. It is shaped sort of like a torpedo, with a tail like that of a shark, and it does not have scales like most fish.
Its long body is mostly cartilaginous, and is covered with shield-shaped plates which protect its skin.
It has a long snout, and its mouth is on the bottom of its head. It doesn’t have any teeth because it gets all of its food from the bottom by just sucking it up.
It has four barbels in front of its mouth. These drag along the bottom and are used to sense items of food, which may be worms, leeches, insect larvae, and other small things.
Sturgeon spawn in clean gravel in early spring, and the amount of eggs seems to vary with the weight of the female.
A 12-pound one may have about 50,000 eggs but a 100-pound one can have as many as 500,000. And the really big females can produce three million eggs or so.
They are very slow to develop. A female will mature sexually in about 20 years, and a male in 12 or 15.
They also are quite fussy about where they spawn. They may move out of lakes and rivers to places 100 miles away or more to find just the right spot.
The sturgeon is a big fish. Nowadays, the largest run to about three or four feet (some big ones are caught at about six feet). But in the early days of fishing in Canada, fish up to nine or 10 feet long were not that unusual.
They live for a good long time, too, maybe 100 years or more.
Nowadays, sturgeon are found in almost all of the Hudson Bay and Great Lakes drainage area, and as far south as Kansas and Alabama.
At one time, Lake of the Woods was know as the most prolific place for sturgeon. But now, there are only remnant numbers in the Great Lakes areas.
Sturgeon seem to be increasing, but only slowly.
In the early days of commercial fishing, the sturgeon was considered to be a big nuisance—mostly because of the damage they could do to nets.
They often were just thrown up on shore to rot away, or dried so they could be used for fuel for the lake steamers.
White men did not consider the flesh to be very good. The natives, on the other hand, thought quite highly of this fish.
Sturgeon were harvested commercially for a long time—up to the late 1880s. In 1885, over eight million pounds were caught, but by the 1970s, this was down to about half-a-million pounds or so.
Canada has imposed closed seasons, and severe limits, on fishing for sturgeon and for poaching. Some U.S. states have their own ways of imposing limits.
In one state, for example, only 25 licences are given out. Then each fisherman is given a flag, which he has to hand in when he catches a fish.
When three flags are handed in, all sturgeon fishing stops.
And in Minnesota, you only are allowed one sturgeon per calendar year.
There are about 20 species of sturgeon in the world, and there is a World Sturgeon Society, which sponsors a lot of research, conferences, and so on (the headquarters of this body is in Germany).
In England, the sturgeon is known as the Royal Fish. Edward II issued a decree which said that all produce from the seas was to belong to the King, and this specifically listed sturgeon. And this law is still on the books.
Hiawatha knew the sturgeon, too. She speaks of it: “On the white sand of the bottom, Lay the monster, Mishe-Nahma, Lay the Sturgeon, King of Fishes.”
Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) are primitive animals, without a doubt. The long, cartilaginous body, and those armour plates, show this.
They are living fossils.

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