Annual Volunteer Drive by Sturgeon for Tomorrow is On Now

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Black River, Cheboygan County, MI — April 4, 2024

Volunteers are needed in Cheboygan County now through early June to stand guard as mature lake sturgeon head upstream to their spawning sites along the Black River.

Black River / Lasco Press Photo

The Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow is working in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and various tribes to protect the fish from illegal harvest during the six-week spawning season.

Sgt. Mike Mshar, who leads DNR Law Enforcement Division’s efforts on the river, said, “This program, that protects this iconic species when they are most vulnerable, is a model of how agencies and the public can cooperate to get work accomplished.”

The lake sturgeon, which can weigh up to 200 pounds and live to be 100 years old, is listed as a threatened species in Michigan, with any sport fishing being closely regulated.

What’s it Like

Last year, The Lasco Press visited the Black River and talked to a number of these volunteers dedicated to the Sturgeon Guarding Program. Campsites along the river provide a place for longer-term volunteers to set up camp. Short-term volunteers come from groups like the Boy Scouts or school-sponsored activities.

Your eyes quickly adapt to the river bed and Sturgeon can be seen in their natural environment. If research groups are on the river, capture, tagging, and health checks are performed in the shallows. It is an exciting and educational process.

MSU Research Team check Sturgeon health status / Lasco Press Photo

“For over 20 years, the annual Sturgeon Guarding Program has proven that people serving as sturgeon guards watching over the river have virtually eliminated poaching, while helping to ensure the protection and reproductive success of the species,” said Mary Paulson, the program’s volunteer coordinator. “It’s a unique and rewarding experience to witness these majestic fish swimming up the Black River and to be a key player in safeguarding one of Michigan’s most valuable natural resources.”

Volunteers are assigned shifts along the river to stand, watch and report suspicious activity to the DNR conservation officers patrolling the area. The program also uses aerial surveillance for additional monitoring.

“The experience of watching researchers capture, tag, and release these amazing fish is, in itself, worth the effort of becoming involved,” said Jay Woiderski, president of Sturgeon for Tomorrow’s sturgeon recovery effort in the Black River/Cheboygan River watershed. “We also encourage those who enjoy mountain biking, mushrooming, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and camping in beautiful wild areas to partner with the sturgeon guarding effort.”

Lasco Press Photo

While volunteers will be assigned sites to stand guard, there will be on-site coordinators at the river to assist and answer questions. Additionally, volunteers are asked to assist in recording the number of fish active in the area.

Lake sturgeon rehabilitation has seen ongoing efforts at federal, state, tribal, and local levels since the late 1900s, when the species dramatically declined due to overharvesting and habitat loss. Monitoring of harvesting practices, along with rearing and stocking efforts in selected lakes, have headlined restoration efforts across the state.

The monitoring activity, designed to protect the fish, is also an opportunity to get involved in natural resource management. It has drawn volunteers from families, church groups, Scouting groups, students, and artists such as photographers.

Individuals or groups interested in volunteering should contact Jim and Mary Paulson at 989-763-7568. Volunteers also can register online or search online for Sturgeon for Tomorrow, Black Lake Chapter.