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Editorial: Restoring sturgeon is another step in renewal of Great Lakes

Protecting lake sturgeon, an ancient fish that resembles a dinosaur, is important to this region because of the vital role it can play in demonstrating the overall health and diversity of the Great Lakes.

The work by state and federal biologists to capture and tag about three dozen sturgeon in the channel between the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Buffalo and the city’s Outer Harbor breakwater in an effort to learn more about eastern Lake Erie’s sturgeon population was highlighted in a recent News article.

The sturgeon is endangered in large part due to humankind’s interference. Dating back to the early 1800s, commercial fishermen considered sturgeon a nuisance and killed them off. In the late 1800s to early 1900s, the sturgeon was heavily fished.

There are other reasons for the demise of the torpedo-shaped lake sturgeon, which can reach more than 8 feet and 200 pounds and traces its origins back to the dinosaur age.

Again, blame humans. It wasn’t long ago that dumping pollutants into lakes, rivers and streams was accepted practice. Decades of grass-roots efforts on the local, state and national levels have resulted in some historic environmental victories and put a stop to such indiscriminate pollution. The Clean Water Act passed by Congress in 1972 ushered in a new era. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an effort that began during the George W. Bush administration, has been a marvel of regional cooperation.

The Buffalo River is just one success story of the initiative. The once-dead waterway is now a playground for kayakers and paddle boarders.

The Trump administration’s attempts to chip away at the hard-won environmental gains endanger the sturgeon as well as other wildlife in this vital ecosystem. They also endanger the economic progress Great Lakes communities have made in leveraging a robust blue economy based on access to clean water.

The sturgeon have survived overfishing and pollution, but the lakes face new threats from toxic algae blooms, Asian carp, zebra mussels and a host of other invasive species, in addition to habitat loss and pollution.

It is a tribute to the sturgeon that it has persisted over the centuries. Biologists are closely studying the sturgeon to help ensure that it can thrive.

Research and data on Lake Erie’s sturgeon, as The News’ T.J. Pignataro wrote, starts at the bottom of Buffalo Harbor, where the sturgeon can be found – and caught. In an intricate endeavor, scientists used 300-foot-long gill nets to bring sturgeon to the surface and identify them by gender and state of health. They were then electronically tagged so they can be tracked, and returned to the lake. Data from the three dozen sturgeon tagged this spring will help guide restoration efforts.

Sturgeon may act as a sort of canary in the coal mine for the Great Lakes ecosystem. The population of this ancient fish serves as a marker and reminder of how well humans are doing in protecting the environment.

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