Lake sturgeon in the Moose River Basin

More effort has been directed at understanding the biology of lake sturgeon in the basin than any other fish species.

Juvenile lake sturgeon

Figure 1. Juvenile lake sturgeon. Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri. 


Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) (Figure 1) are a unique and important part of the diversity
of life in rivers of the Moose River Basin. They can be a major component of these river
ecosystems and make up a significant portion of the total mass of fish in a river. Lake sturgeon
were remarkably successful at adapting to life in open, big-river habitat but they now face an
uncertain future. Over-harvesting, habitat loss from the construction and operation of dams,
and other factors have reduced the number and distribution of lake sturgeon across their historical range.


This report provides information about the state of lake sturgeon in the Moose River Basin and
the factors influencing them. It also presents information about what is being done to help ensure
the long-term survival of this species.



The Moose River Basin


The Moose River Basin (Figure 2) drains about 109,000 square kilometres in northeastern Ontario. This unique watershed is dominated by an extensive network of rivers and streams. All waters flow north and converge to form the Moose River which empties into James Bay. The rivers of the Moose River Basin have diverse fish communities with 15 to 28 known fish species. The larger rivers tend to contain a higher number of different species. Fish species typically include walleye, northern pike, whitefish, brook trout, lake sturgeon, and several baitfish. Some fish species such as smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and brown bullhead are becoming more common.


Moose River Basin
Figure 2. Location of the Moose River Basin in Ontario.

Historically, the Moose River Basin was an inter-connected network of large waterways which provided abundant and diverse habitats for lake sturgeon at all stages of their life. Major hydroelectric (waterpower) development in the late 1930s transformed some sections of these free-flowing, big rivers into a series of broad, deep runs and artificial lakes (reservoirs) separated by dams. These regulated river systems may not provide ideal habitat for lake sturgeon.


Increasing demands for clean, renewable energy are driving further development of Ontario’s large river systems. The Moose River Basin in particular has the potential to provide about one-half of the province’s waterpower targets by 2025. Most of the development potential in the basin is in waters where lake sturgeon are found.



Next page... Ecology of the lake sturgeon

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