On May 31, 2014 over 2,500 visitors enjoyed learning about the iconic Lake Sturgeon at the Blue Water Sturgeon Festival. This fish is known as the “Gentle Giant of the Great Lakes,” given its large size (growing to over six feet and topping 100 pounds!) It is now a Michigan state threatened species due to habitat loss, historical over-fishing and pollution. Work is being done to restore its numbers – including public outreach.
The Lake Huron to Lake Erie Corridor supports the largest spawning sturgeon population in the Great Lakes, making Port Huron an ideal location for the event. The festival was at the popular, tourist-friendly Maritime Center in Port Huron along the St. Clair River. The site is typically known for freighter watching, yet it also draws thousands of anglers each year.
Organized by the Friends of the St. Clair River Watershed, the sturgeon festival is a partner-based event involving natural resources agencies, non-profits, industry, anglers and recreationists to promote understanding and appreciation for this ancient fish, as well as to develop support for habitat restoration efforts to increase the Lake Sturgeon population. Activities at the festival educate on an ecosystem approach to managing fish and wildlife in the St. Clair River.
19 partners helped to plan and present the event, including: St. Clair County Health Department, Friends of the St. Clair River Watershed, Acheson Ventures, Cranbrook Institute of Science, DTE Energy Foundation, Sturgeon for Tomorrow – Detroit/St. Clair Chapter, U.S.G.S. Great Lakes Science Center, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Gregory AD, Community Foundation of St. Clair County, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan Department of Community Health, St. Clair BPAC/AOC, Best Buy, Cargill, Arrow Rezolutions, LLC and NOAA. New this year was a Native American drumming ceremony shared by Walpole Island First Nations members.
Exhibitors featured information, models and hands-on activities to increase public awareness of water quality, fish-consumption guidelines, lake sturgeon biology and conservation. A tank with live caught Lake Sturgeon gave visitors a close-encounter with these extraordinary fish. Workshops on USGS habitat restoration efforts and the local Bi-national Public Advisory Committee’s work on cleaning up and delisting the St. Clair River were offered throughout the day.
A unique aspect of the event was the Sturgeon Cruise offered in partnership with local charter boat company Huron Lady II. 300 tickets were sold in 2014. On the cruise, guests saw Lake Sturgeon in the St. Clair River via video feed from professional diver Greg Lashbrook (Gregory AD) underneath the boat. Flat screen televisions donated by Best Buy on deck allowed guests a personal view of the live action from the lake bottom. Experienced tour guides shared knowledge and answered questions for passengers. The cruises provided an exciting and unforgettable encounter with Lake Sturgeon active in the waters of the Bluewater Bridge area.
2014 also marked the expansion to include a kid’s school day at the festival. Classes with the most participation in an educational Poster Contest about Lake Sturgeon won a cruise on Friday, May 30th. The Artwork could depict lake sturgeon biology, habitat or their role in the food web. They had to be 8.5” x 11” in size, and be completed individually.
11,700 flyers were printed and distributed throughout the St. Clair County school system, and 230 posters were submitted by local schools. Classes with highest participation won. Six classes, or 300 fifth-grade students, went on Friday cruises. Schools included: Cleveland Elementary, St. Edward on the Lake, Crull Elementary, Kimball Elementary, Gearing Elementary, Waldron Middle School and Avoca Elementary.
While students were on the Huron Lady II, USFWS and USGS scientists gave an interpretive talk on the life history of the Lake Sturgeon and explained their research and its significance. The highlight was meeting a USFWS boat with live sturgeon on board being tagged for research about migration patterns and spawning bed use.
The Blue Water Sturgeon Festival provided an exciting time for students and families alike as they learned the fascinating story of this ancient fish – a mascot for the Great Lakes and their recovery. Each year it is hoped the festival will grow to embrace new partners, students, families and visitors in thinking about conservation and stewardship of the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, and to recognize and celebrate biological treasures such as the Lake Sturgeon.
Cranbrook Institute of Science supports the festival through the DTE Energy Foundation Community Water Festival program. The community water festival program is a state-wide initiative is to expand watershed education throughout Michigan to protect the Great Lakes.
The Blue Water Sturgeon Festival is scheduled for May 30, 2015. For more information and details how to purchase tickets visit: http://www.sturgeonfestival.com/