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Toledo Zoo announces sponsorships for sturgeon tag program in Maumee River

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    Lake sturgeon, the longest-living, slowest-maturing, and largest fish found on the North American continent, are capable of reaching more than eight feet in length and weighing in excess of 300 pounds. Male lake sturgeon can live more than 50 years, while the females can reach 150 years of age or more.

    US Fish & Wildlife Service

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    In this file photo: Biologist Katie Herzog feeds blood worms to young Lake Sturgeon inside a newly built trailer designed to raise the fish, located near the Toledo Zoo administration building in Toledo.

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    In this file photo, young Lake Sturgeon swim inside tanks of Maumee River water fostering inside a newly built trailer located near the Toledo Zoo administration building in Toledo.

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The Toledo Zoo has just announced how to become a sponsor of Ohio’s first attempt to reintroduce iconic lake sturgeon into the Maumee River.

One option is to attend a big sturgeon release party from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 6 at the city of Toledo Boat Launch along Broadway Street near Walbridge Park.

Sponsors can also go to www.toledozoo.org, scroll down to “Sturgeon Tag Program” and click on “Sponsor Now.”

Only those who donate in person Oct. 6 will be allowed to release their own fish, the zoo said. Sponsorships are available in amounts of $25, $50, $75, and $100.

Each of the nearly 3,000 lake sturgeon being put into the river for the inaugural release will have a unique microchip implanted into them. The zoo said it will have staffers contact donors if their sponsored fish is ever recovered as part of ongoing monitoring efforts.

About 600 of the 3,000 juvenile sturgeon being released have been raised from eggs inside a modified trailer set up in the parking lot of the Toledo Zoo’s administration building on Broadway Street north of the release site. The other 2,400 have been raised inside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Genoa, Wis.

Scientists are curious to learn if streamside rearing has advantages over the hatchery-raised fish. The zoo is the seventh and southernmost location for the former, which involves pumping water from the local stream being used into a trailer where the juveniles are being raised to help acclimate them to it. But it’s much more costly than the hatchery method.

The release is to be the first of 10 performed annually, although organizers say the releases could be done annually for 20 or more years.

The juvenile sturgeon have been fed a steady diet of chopped blood worms four times a day in recent weeks. When they were younger, they ate brine shrimp, Kent Bekker, the zoo’s conservation and research director, has said.

Justin Chiotti, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist involved with sturgeon-recovery efforts across the Great Lakes, has said the captive babies soon should be growing at a rate of almost an inch a week, based on what he’s seen at other streamside rearing facilities.

The fish are expected to be 6 to 7 inches long for the release. Biologists want them to be at least 5 inches long to have microchips successfully implanted into them.

The goal is to re-establish the Maumee River as a spawning site for lake sturgeon — a large, pug-nosed species that is older than dinosaurs. They are the Great Lakes region’s biggest fish and can grow up to 12 feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds. With all of their muscle and attitude, they are capable of knocking down grown men like bowling pins.

The baby lake sturgeon grew from eggs delivered to the zoo and the fish hatchery in June after being captured from females near Port Huron, Mich. The zoo is working in collaboration with multiple state, federal, and private organizations — all of which share the mutual goal of having the unusual fish help them generate more interest for Maumee River and Great Lakes protection efforts.

Lake sturgeon are one of 27 species of sturgeon worldwide but one of only three that spend their entire life in fresh water. Most others live at sea, seeking out fresh water to spawn.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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