Lake sturgeon season opens Feb. 1

BLACK LAKE – Lake sturgeon fishers can spear a total of five of the fish from Black Lake this year, one fish short of last year’s voluntary quota.

A new method that more closely models the lake’s adult sturgeon population is behind the smaller quota, rather than an actual population drop, Tim Cwalinski of the Department of Natural Resources said. He’s the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit lake sturgeon coordinator, and said the new method factors in differing spawning intervals for individual sturgeon. This is the result of years of research, including annual spawning surveys on the Black River.

“The old method violated some assumptions on how often sturgeon spawn … the new method actually allows for better math,” he said. “Instead of a generality, it actually incorporates different spawning periods in there.”

The Sturgeon Shivaree is set to begin on Jan. 31, a day before sturgeon season opens on Black Lake, local Sturgeon For Tomorrow chapter President Brenda Archambo said. This celebration of all things lake sturgeon kicked off in 1961, and this is the second year of its revival. The two-day shivaree includes live music on both days, a Native American drum ceremony on Jan. 31, a fishing contest and kids activities on Feb. 1 and a poker run involving area businesses.

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Proceeds from the shivaree will support research, habitat and outreach programs, including a lake sturgeon hatchery on Black River. It’s the result of a partnership between the DNR, Michigan State University, the local Sturgeon for Tomorrow chapter and the Tower-Kleber Limited Partnership.

“People really do care. We have something special here in northern Michigan,” she said. “People around the world are looking at how we have rose up over the years to create this collaboration between academia, the DNR, (Native American) tribes and a nonprofit organization.”

The DNR’s newest population model is drawing attention as well, Cwalinski said. It’s been in the works for a few years, and the department collaborated with researchers in New Zealand to develop the “cutting edge” method. Each spring, the department works with MSU biologists to survey the Black River spawn, and after 13 years researchers learned more about spawning intervals for individual fish.

Other agencies are looking into the research on Black Lake sturgeon, especially on population numbers, Cwalinski said. The findings on spawning periodicity might apply to other species that breed at different intervals.

For the season itself, there are a few differences, according to Cwalinski and the DNR. The department once again will hold a pre-registration at its field office on M-211 on Jan. 31. However, on opening day only the Zolner Road location will be open for same-day registration.

Season rules are largely unchanged as well, according to the DNR. The season starts at 8 a.m. Feb. 1, and fishing runs each day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The season ends after the fifth fish has been speared, if four fish are speared by 2 p.m. on a given day or at 2 p.m. Feb. 5, whichever happens first. There’s no minimum size on lake sturgeon to take fishing pressure off large, spawning adults, likely to be females.

Anglers need an all-species fishing license, a free sturgeon tag and a disposable spearing flag. Licenses and kill tags are available from any DNR license retailer, and the flag is available at registration. Those who successfully spear a fish must tag it immediately, contact an on-ice DNR employee and register the fish at the Zolner Road trailer.

Sturgeon for Tomorrow volunteers will help to notify anglers the season has ended, Cwalinski said. The organization is as much a part of managing the annual season as the DNR.

As in years past, state-licensed anglers will share an allocation of fish with five Native American tribes, Cwalinski said. This allocation is 1.2 percent of the estimated spawning population, with one buffer fish subtracted voluntarily in case an extra fish is speared.

Stocked juvenile sturgeon are doing better than expected, Cwalinski said. A gill net survey in 2013 showed good numbers of larger fish, and males that were stocked 10 years ago should start making the spawning run soon. This could mean higher sturgeon quotas in winters to come.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at