ALBANY, N.Y. -- Researchers in New York have found two wild lake sturgeon juveniles, the first caught after years of stocking intended to restore populations of the once-plentiful Great Lakes fish.
The finds come a year after the discovery of the first egg-bearing sturgeon in stocked areas raised hopes the fish will continue a comeback in the wild, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said Thursday.
Sturgeon, which can grow to 7 feet and 300 pounds, were fished to near extinction, mostly for caviar, starting in the mid-19th century. The commercial fishery was shut down in 1976, and the slow-growing fish was put in 1983 on the state threatened species list, which banned sport fishing, according to the DEC.
Since 1995, the agency has released more than 65,000 juvenile sturgeon in New York waters and worked with federal and university researchers along with Native American tribes to monitor the population, which was also damaged by manmade changes in waterways and water quality.
The first wild juvenile found was 2 ½-pound, 25-inch fish about 5 years old caught June 12 on the Oswegatchie River by a U.S. Geological Survey researcher.
It is the only young wild sturgeon caught in more than 30 years on the St. Lawrence River tributary and may be the offspring of adults stocked more than 20 years ago or a remnant of the original population, which is slowly coming back throughout the Great Lakes.
DEC said the second was a 19-inch, 2-year-old that weighed a pound and was caught by Cornell University researchers on July 30 in Oneida Lake, where 8,000 fingerlings were stocked between 1995 and 2004.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens described the discoveries as "a great example of how, with good science and great partnerships, we can restore a species that nearly disappeared from our state."
He also warned anglers that it's still illegal to take the sturgeon. They should take steps to avoid catching them and if they do, should take care to make sure they're safely returned to the water.