When humans kill off species, or bring them to the brink of extinction, the tales of their abundance seem unimaginable; history becomes modern day folklore. Skies filled with passenger pigeons, prairies full of buffalo, and the great lakes with such an abundance of lake sturgeon that they were seen as a nuisance because they damaged fishing gear…in the mid 1800’s this massive freshwater fish was stacked like cord wood on the shoreline to rot, or was burned as fuel in steam boats.
Between 1879 and 1900 their meat and eggs became prized and commercial fishermen targeted them. During those years the Great Lakes commercial sturgeon fishery brought in an average of 4 million pounds (1.8 metric tons) per year. The 20th century brought massive declines in their numbers from pollution, dams, and destruction of their spawning beds in rivers because of agriculture and logging practices. Currently 19 of the 20 states within the fish’s original U.S. range list it as either threatened or endangered. Recent years have brought on a bit of a comeback for this great fish, though nothing compared to it’s days of legend.