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UT student helps Toledo Zoo secure grant money to restore sturgeon to Lake Erie

The Toledo Zoo secured approximately $90,000 in federal grant money to re-establish ancient lake sturgeon to Lake Erie with the help of a PhD student researcher at The University of Toledo.

The Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act Grants Program recently approved the funding proposal to build a sturgeon rearing facility at the Toledo Zoo along the Maumee River, which flows into Lake Erie.

UT graduate student Jessica Sherman held a lake sturgeon at the Black Lake Fish Hatchery near Onaway, Mich.

UT graduate student Jessica Sherman held a lake sturgeon at the Black Lake Fish Hatchery near Onaway, Mich.

Jessica Sherman, PhD student researcher in UT’s Department of Environmental Sciences, assisted the project by verifying that spawning and nursery habitat still exists in the Maumee River to sustain a population of the fish that can live to be 150 years old and grow up to 300 pounds and nine feet long.

“The new lake sturgeon rearing facility to be built at the Toledo Zoo will be a starting point for rebuilding the population that was once an important part of Lake Erie’s ecology,” Sherman said. “As a graduate student, it has been an incredible opportunity for me to work with partners at the zoo, as well as state and federal agencies to give these large and ancient fish a chance to thrive in Lake Erie once again. This is an instance when scientists and natural resource managers have the opportunity to improve the state of an ecosystem by restoring a species that belongs there and to learn a good lesson about our actions in the past.”

The addition of the grant brings the total funding for the project to $170,000.

Construction of the trailer-sized streamside fish hatchery is slated to begin next year. The goal is to release 3,000 juvenile fish into the Maumee River every year starting in 2018.

“The Toledo Zoo is proud to work with our partners: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Toledo, Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Wildlife, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to re-introduce a historical fish back to our area waterways,” said Jeff Sailer, executive director of the Toledo Zoo. “This project fits well with the zoo’s mission of inspiring others to join us in caring for animals and conserving the natural world. Humans caused the demise of this species, and it is most appropriate that we work together to bring it back.”

Lake sturgeon, which existed with dinosaurs, are no longer in the Maumee River. They’re believed to exist in small numbers in Lake Erie.

According to the zoo’s conservation director, lake sturgeon were abundant in the Maumee River in the 1800s, but the demand for caviar and fuel, as well as commercial over-fishing, caused the population to decline and ultimately disappear.

“Ohio doesn’t have a current reproducing lake sturgeon population,” said Kent Bekker, director of conservation and research for the Toledo Zoo. “This facility is a huge step for the reintroduction of this species in our state and for the Lake Erie basin.”