Sturgeon continue comeback in Detroit River

Sturgeon are spawning in the Detroit River, keeping alive a resurgence that started two years ago.
Sturgeon are an endangered species and can't be fished. (MNR)

Sturgeon continue to spawn in the Detroit River.

John Nevin, the public affairs advisor in the Windsor office of the International Joint Commission, said the healthy return of the species is important for the region.

"People should care about the sturgeon because they’re the canary in the coal mine," Nevin said. "If we see sturgeon thriving in the Detroit River and St. Clair River, it means the water is healthy."

Sturgeon are an endangered species and can't be fished. Their local habitat has taken a beating in the Windsor-Essex region. Much of the fish's habitat had been destroyed in favour of urban sprawl. Pollution and sewage runoff over the years also contributed to its near demise.

"In order to develop this area we had to alter the waterways," said Ken Droulliard, a researcher with the Great Lakes Institute at the University of Windsor. "It was growth and economic development of the region on a grand scale."

Droulliard said 47 per cent of the Detroit River's shoreline has been "hardened" by vertical, manmade break walls, which replaced the natural rocky waterbeds the sturgeon need to spawn.

"There's been a loss of habitat, there's been water quality issues," Droulliard said.

Droulliard said over the last few years, projects have been started to replace the sturgeon's rocky habitat.

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, biologists observed spawning lake sturgeon and fertilized eggs in a man made spawning area downriver from Detroit and Windsor in the springs of 2009 and 2010. Biologists also captured small sturgeon larvae in a fine net just downstream, indicating that the beds were definitely in use.

Sewage and water treatment has also improved, preventing contaminated water from entering the river.

Nevin said governments at all levels have spent $170 million on improving sewage treatment in Windsor.

"There are still big investments left to be made," Nevin said.