A cooperative effort between South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources could result in the return of a large, prehistoric fish that once swam the border waters of Big Stone Lake.
On Thursday, Sept. 1, the third release in a series of lake sturgeon stockings took place on Big Stone Lake at Hartford Beach State Park north of Milbank, S.D.
“Historically, Big Stone Lake had a wild lake sturgeon population, but the last known fish washed up on shore in 1946,” said GFP aquatic biologist Chelsey Pasbrig. “The large fish is native to the Minnesota River drainage and the Missouri River in South Dakota.”
The two state agencies are coordinating a project to release at least 4,000 tagged lake sturgeon fingerlings per year for up to 20 years. Since fall 2014, 17,000 fingerlings have been stocked into Big Stone Lake.
The fingerling fish are from the Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources obtained the eggs from fish in the Wisconsin River. Minnesota and South Dakota along with the Citizens for Big Stone Lake partnered on the cost of the fish.
While only five inches long at the time of stocking, lake sturgeon can exceed 100 years in age and weigh more than 200 pounds.
Improvement in water quality and removal of five dams within the watershed have made habitat more suitable for lake sturgeon again in Big Stone Lake and the Little Minnesota River, the primary inlet of Big Stone Lake.
Regulations are currently in place to protect lake sturgeon, as law currently prohibits their take in waters of Minnesota and South Dakota. The lake sturgeon stocked should grow to about 30 inches, or five pounds in about five years. The ultimate goal of this stocking is to restore a historic fishery and provide a potential angling opportunity in the future.