ONAWAY - Lake sturgeon will be spawning in the Black River soon, and the Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow needs volunteers to be a sturgeon guard.
Sturgeon may get a later start on spawning this year due to the harsh winter and the late ice-out on Black Lake, volunteer coordinator Ann Feldhauser said. But it's not too early to sign up, and SFT needs lots of help. These massive fish are vulnerable to poaching when they swim to their spawning grounds, and volunteers help to deter poachers.
"We need hundreds of people to be able to oversee the key spawning areas in the river," she said. "There are several of them up and down the seven-mile stretch of river that the fish traditionally come into."
Every volunteer gets a free hat, and gets to witness what Feldhauser believes to be the most remarkable spawning runs in the state, she said. They'll also get to see the sturgeon up close. Michigan State University and the Department of Natural Resources send a group of researchers to the river each year to tag and study spawning sturgeon. This makes it a good educational opportunity for youth groups and other organizations.
"When these fish come into the river, they're easy to see," she said. "They're huge, they're very visible. They splash and porpoise, and there's only one thing on their mind and that's spawning. You can get very close to them at some of our key spawning sites."
Those who camp for a number of days will be eligible for free tickets to the Sturgeon for Tomorrow annual banquet and other incentives, Feldhauser said. There's no charge to camp on the state forest lands along the river, and campers can bring tents or small trailers.
There are lots of Boy Scout troops and other organizations signed up for the weekends, so Feldhauser is looking for volunteers during the middle of the week, she said. Volunteers sign up for one of three shifts from 6 a.m. until dark, when conservation officers take over on patrols.
Feldhauser said she expects the spawn to run into early June. It likely won't begin until the river water temperature reaches 55 degrees, the temperature sturgeon seem to prefer.
To sign up, call Feldhauser at 906-201-2484 or 906-346-9511. Or, sign up online: www.sturgeonfortomorrow.org/volunteer-form.php