The Prehistoric Sturgeon

Lake Sturgeon

Lake Sturgeon © Dr. Charles Steinmetz, Jr.

The Prehistoric Sturgeon by Gene Walz

Several years ago an angler pulled a big, disturbingly ugly fish out the Red River in downtown Winnipeg as I walked by.

It looked like something that had been dredged up from the prehistoric past, not the muddy waters of the Red. It had facial feelers like a bottom-feeding catfish, but its head was smaller and flatter. Before he threw it back, the fisherman told me it was a sturgeon. To me it was a dinosaur fish. He said they weren’t good eatin’ – too oily. My opinion: too creepy to eat.

I’m a newborn babe when it comes to fish. My dad gave my brother and me fishing poles for Christmas one year when I was ten. I caught the same four-inch “sunfish” (I think) three times before I quickly lost interest in fishing and fish.

Even though there’s a Sturgeon Creek in Winnipeg, I was so naïve about fish that I had no idea sturgeon were from here. I thought they were ocean fish – like the sharks, rays, and skates I’ve since found out are their near relatives. Evidently they can even be found in the US south.

A threatened species, sturgeon (ours are Lake Sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens) are now being studied in the rivers of Manitoba. Not much is known, except that they prefer the very depths of rivers and lakes and are endangered by pollution and hydroelectric dams.

In northern Minnesota the Department of Natural Resources is restocking some rivers with thousands of sturgeon. A news item I saw on tv recently reminded me of my only sturgeon encounter. The sturgeon on the news were jumping out of the water like frolicking dolphins. Not as dangerous as the Asian carp in southern US rivers, but disconcerting.

Jumping dinosaur fish. They are truly odd.

Gene Walz

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