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Center for Biological Diversity seeks federal protection for lake sturgeon; Minnesota DNR submits data substantiating recovery in the state

Tony Baker of Grand Forks caught and released this 65-inch, 82-pound sturgeon May 3 on the Rainy River in Baudette, Minn. The Center for Biological Diversity this week petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for lake sturgeon, but in Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources has submitted data substantiating recovery efforts across the state. (Submitted photo)

The Center for Biological Diversity this week petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list lake sturgeon for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River drainage, but a fisheries manager for the state Department of Natural Resources said the agency doesn't believe the listing is necessary in Minnesota, where the prehistoric species continues to recover.

"Minnesota DNR has submitted data substantiating recovery across the state," Henry Drewes, northwest region fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji, said in an email. "Field biologists do not believe (federal Endangered Species Act protection) is needed in Minnesota to continue recovery efforts.

"Federal listing in some parts of the country could be beneficial," Drewes added.

In a news release, the Center for Biological Diversity said lake sturgeon numbers have declined by "roughly 99 percent" in the past century or so across the species' range. The petition requests a "threatened" ESA listing for all lake sturgeon in the U.S. or, alternatively, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether there are distinct populations of lake sturgeon that warrant separate listing.

The range of lake sturgeon covers 23 states, including Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, the news release said.

According to the Center, lake sturgeon in Minnesota, Lake Superior, the Missouri River, Ohio River, Arkansas-White River and lower Mississippi River are more endangered than populations elsewhere in the species' range.

Despite that claim, there's plenty of good news to be had in Minnesota, where recovery efforts are ongoing.

Consider Lake of the Woods, for example. Once nearly wiped out in the Lake of the Woods region, lake sturgeon populations in both U.S. and Canadian waters of Lake of the Woods and Rainy River have met short-term recovery goals. According to Herald archives, those goals called for male sturgeon to age 30 and females to age 50, with fish larger than 70 inches present and 30 year-classes, or fish recruited to the population from a given year's hatch, in the population.

A Border Waters Sturgeon Management Committee that includes representatives from Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources, the Minnesota DNR and the Rainy River First Nations tribe in Ontario developed the goals and declared them met in early 2012.

Long-term goals include male sturgeon to age 40, females to age 70 and 10 percent to 15 percent of the population consisting of fish longer than 80 inches, Herald archives show. There also would be 40 year-classes of sturgeon in the population under the long-term guidelines.

Based in Tucson, Ariz., the Center for Biological Diversity describes itself as "a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places."