Lake sturgeon, Teiokién:taron, is a culturally-significant species. Lake sturgeon are known by elders for their size, strength, and longevity, as well as a vital protein source for sustenance. The practice of collective sharing of smoked sturgeon in the family and community is still an important cultural practice in Akwesasne that continues today. The practice of sturgeon fishing is preserved by a few Mohawk knowledge holders in Akwesasne, passed down through generations. Sturgeon fishing is reserved to Native people in Canadian waters, and protected by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975).
Lake sturgeon, are the largest and longest lived fish species native to the Great Lakes watershed. During the colonial settlements, these fish were once killed as a nuisance by non-Natives. After the mid 1800’s, settlers realized that the sturgeon flesh and roe (eggs) was a valuable resource, and smoked sturgeon and caviar became very popular and sold in New York City. Today, this activity is illegal in New York State (NYS). The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) closed the sturgeon fishery in 1976 and listed the fish as a New York State threatened species in 1983. It has remained on the list since. Lake sturgeon are also listed as “threatened” in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. In 2006, the Committee on the State of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) suggested a status change from “special concern” to “threatened” for the lake sturgeon species in the waters of the St. Lawrence River between the Moses-Saunders Dam and Beauharnais Power Dam, including Lake St. Francis and Akwesasne waters.
Despite recent reduced fishing pressures and state and provincial protection, lake sturgeon populations have yet to rebound. Teiokién:taron are long-lived; females don’t reach sexual maturity until 14-23 years of age and only spawn every four to six years. Spawning female sturgeon can live up to 150 years in the wild, grow up to seven feet in length, weigh up to 200-300 lbs, and carry 30 lbs. of roe during spawning years. Lake sturgeon’s late age of maturity and periodic spawning have contributed to the species rapid decline and slow recovery. This is why it is important to preserve the spawning females in the wild, and encourage successful reproduction through egg rearing activities through fish hatcheries and scientific intervention. SRMT’s Environment Division, environmental specialists of the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern (AOC) and Water Resources Programs have been collaborating amongst offices and with state and federal resource agencies to promote sustainable lake sturgeon practices.