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Federal decision could upend sturgeon season

A Northern Michigan lawmaker is pushing back against a decision that would designate lake sturgeons as an endangered species, upending the decades old tradition.

State Rep. Cam Cavitt, whose district includes Black Lake, said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services could declare the species endangered and effectively end harvesting nationwide. The agency will announce its decision in June, followed by a year-long public comment period.

Cavitt said that Michigan’s sturgeon populations are already well-managed through years of work from the DNR and partner organizations.

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“The Michigan model works — they should be taking our model and asking other states to follow it, is what they should be doing,” he said.

The ruling was requested in 2018 by the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona environmental group. A petition to the Fish and Wildlife Services says that sturgeon populations have declined significantly

The petition lists the Black Lake population as one of the more robust in the nation, citing significant conservation policies that have been put into place since a population decline from the 1970s to the 2000s.

Lake sturgeon harvesting has been highly regulated by the state for decades. Only 12 are allowed to be harvested per year, split between anglers and local tribes. The “season” sometimes concludes in under an hour, creating a mad dash to catch a fish before the limit is reached.

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“For over two decades, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ fisheries biologists, in cooperation with their tribal partners, Sturgeon For Tomorrow, dedicated volunteers like the Sturgeon Guard,” Cavitt added, “have been working to help, rehabilitate, recover and protect our lake sturgeon.”

This year’s fishing season was cancelled by the DNR due to low ice coverage and ensuing safety concerns.

The DNR has been stocking hundreds or thousands of sturgeon in recent years and hopes to have a population of at least 1600 adult lake sturgeon by 2030.

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