VALLEY TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says it is looking into a potential poaching problem concerning the Great Lakes’ famed sturgeon, a threatened species.

DNR Lake Michigan Basin coordinator Jay Wesley says lake sturgeon spawn in waterways like the Kalamazoo River as far back as the Allegan Dam.

“They’re known to eat quagga and zebra mussels. They eat round gobies,” Wesley explained, listing species that invasive in Michigan. “They eat items on the bottom of the river and Lake Michigan and then resuspend those nutrients back up in the ecosystem.”

A baby sturgeon at the Grand Rapids Public Museum on March 1, 2022.
A baby sturgeon at the Grand Rapids Public Museum on March 1, 2022.

Mats filled with hundreds of lake sturgeon eggs were placed at the Allegan Dam to help the species repopulate.

“Their population’s been decimated by habitat destruction, commercial fishing… and we’re trying to get their population back,” Wesley said.

But now there could be another threat.

“These nets are in the way of where people like to fish. Unfortunately, I think a few anglers are getting frustrated about that and they’re pulling the nets out,” Wesley said. “The problem with that is if there are sturgeon eggs on there, you’re basically killing all those sturgeon eggs that we would’ve put in a sturgeon-rearing facility and giving them a chance to live.”

Twice within a week, Wesley said the mats and the buoys connected to them were pulled out. He believes it could also be poaching.

A buoy marks where a sturgeon egg mat lays in the Kalamazoo River. (May 13, 2022)
A buoy marks where a sturgeon egg mat lays in the Kalamazoo River. (May 13, 2022)

“Sturgeon are a species that produces caviar. On the black market, caviar is very expensive. Luckily, there’s some farm-raised caviar now, so there is less poaching for that particular reason,” Wesley said. “But people also poach them because they are huge fish and they want to show their friends.”

Whatever their reason, Wesley says whoever is removing the mats is breaking the law by vandalizing state property and taking a threatened species, which can lead to fines, equipment being seized and even jail time if found guilty.

“Unfortunately, if it continues, we may have to close the river and that ruins it for everybody,” Wesley warned.

He said that cameras are being installed and signs will be put up to discourage people from interfering with the mats.

Anyone with information is urged to call the DNR’s poaching hotline at 1.800.292.7800 or fill out an online form on the state’s website.