When most people think of the Great Lakes giant sea creatures don’t normally come to mind. Yet lurking under these freshwater bodies of water is a large fish that has been swimming on the planet since the days of the dinosaurs. Did you know the Great Lakes are home to sturgeon that can grow to 7 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds? Don’t worry about encountering one though because humans aren’t considered part of this fish’s diet. They are bottom-feeders who enjoy eating insect larvae, worms, leeches, and other small organisms they discover in the mud at the bottom of a lake or river. In fact, sturgeon don’t even have teeth. Rather than chewing the fish can extend its lips to create a vacuum which can suck up food that it swallows whole.
These fish have been around since prehistoric times and in the 1800’s numbered in the millions. As the region began to become settled Sturgeon were killed in overwhelming numbers because they were considered a nuisance bycatch that damaged commercial fishing nets and gear. Pollution and other man-made changes to their environment also has taken a huge toll on their population. Sturgeon are now considered a threatened species in 7 of the 8 Great Lakes states. But they are now on the verge of a comeback!
Once on the brink of extinction, Sturgeon populations are beginning to increase. Some of the largest gains in population are taking place within the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers that serve as a border between the United States and Canada as well as connect Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and Lake Erie to one another within the Great Lakes basin. Habitat restoration, pollution reduction, and a protected status when it comes to fishing are having a positive impact in saving the Great Lakes biggest fish.
To celebrate the return of these ancient giants, the city of Port Huron, Michigan is hosting the 5th annual BLUE WATER STURGEON FESTIVAL on Saturday, June 3 from 10 am – 4pm where people can learn more about these fish and even get a chance to see or touch one up close. Port Huron sits alongside the St. Clair River which is home to the Great Lakes’ largest population of sturgeon. In 2001, it was discovered that a spot in the St. Clair River running under the Blue Water Bridge, the international crossing point between Port Huron and Sarnia, Canada, was a crucial spawning point for the Sturgeon. Since then the area has been a focal point for restoration efforts involving the fish. Now over 10,000 sturgeon live in proximity to the Blue Water Bridge!
The Blue Water Sturgeon Festival celebrates these accomplishments by providing educational outreach on these fish and their Great Lakes habitat plus a day full of entertaining family-friendly activities. Taking place at the Vantage Point Maritime Center, parking and admission to the festivities which include a variety of kids’ activities, photo ops with Seymor Sturgeon the event’s costumed mascot, a sturgeon birthday cake and lots more fun stuff. A highlight of attending though is getting a close-up look at these “Giants of the Great Lakes” by visiting the live sturgeon touch tank.
A few other notable activities during the Blue Water Sturgeon Festival include:
Sign-up for a one-hour cruise narrated by sturgeon experts on the Huron Lady. Enjoy a scenic boat ride while also watching live video of the lake sturgeon swimming about below you on big screen televisions. There will be three cruises taking place throughout the day and there is a fee to participate. Space is limited to 100 people per cruise so it is recommended to buy a ticket in advance to reserve a spot on the sturgeon cruise.
CHALK THE WALK
Artist Lou Rodriquez who designed Port Huron’s beloved giant sturgeon sculpture, Stella Claire, located along the city’s Blue Water River Walk will be creating a festival inspired chalk drawing. Visitors are encouraged to stop by and watch him at work as well as pick up some chalk and join in adding their own touch to participate in crafting this piece of artwork.
There will be a dozen indoor and outdoor educational displays about sturgeon, other fish native to the area, and the habitat of the Great Lakes full of hands-on activities and informative speakers.
THE GREAT LAKE STURGEON BOOK SIGNING
Dr. Nancy Auer from the Department of Biological Sciences at Michigan Technological University is a recognized expert on sturgeon. Meet Nancy and purchase an autographed copy of her book The Great Lake Sturgeon.
RUN WITH THE STURGEON 5K RACE / 1K FUN RUN
Get some exercise running along the beautiful Blue Water River Walk on the shores of Lake Huron and the St. Clair River. There is a fee to participate in this event. Proceeds benefit Friends of the St. Clair River, Sturgeon For Tomorrow, and Starting Line Youth Running Fund. Advance registration is recommended. All 5K participants receive a t-shirt and finishers medal. All 1K participants receive a medal.
Visit sturgeonfestival.com for more information about the activities going on and directions to get there. The Blue Water Sturgeon Festival is a nice example of a great local community event. There are lots of unique community festivals that take place each year throughout the United States that are often overlooked opportunities for families to learn about new things and have fun spending time together. What are some community festivals that take place near you that are always a good time to attend?
Photos provided courtesy of Blue Water Sturgeon Festival