by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor
On the surface, the 2021 sturgeon season was unlike any other with the issues presented during the pandemic, but one aspect of the annual event conducted on Black Lake has not changed: the fish have been going quick.
This year, the season lasted a mere two hours and six minutes with all seven of the allotted sturgeon being speared.
The final two came in about the same time. That triggered text message notifications to anglers that brought the season to an end.
“Even under a pandemic, the sturgeon season is alive and well,” said Brenda Archambo, Sturgeon for Tomorrow (SFT) president. “It went the way it was supposed to.”
Chris Wilson, who got fish number three Saturday morning, got himself a 63-inch female weighing 61 pounds. It was by far the largest and longest caught in 2021. Andrew LaLonde got the final sturgeon measuring 61 inches and weighing 43 pounds.
“The fish were moving and we knew that going into it, because people come out and scout a few days prior to the opener and move their shanties to a location that gives them the best chance,” said Archambo.
“We had to go through a number of hurdles to keep our staff safe,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski. “We could not have the large gathering this year where there are 100 to 200 people standing around.
“There were a lot of people who don’t fish the season, but want to see the fish. That could not happen this year. I could not let people through the MDNR gate. You can imagine that we had to take a lot of steps to ensure that our people were not exposed to the 570 that were registered. We did it, got through it, and it was successful.”
Cwalinski said the registration was conducted online, and there are preliminary thoughts that it could be the way to go in the future.
“Like everyone else, we are learning how to do certain things differently because of the pandemic,” said Cwalinski. “This is not a certainty, but in my eyes and in the eyes of other people working this, is our online registration. It’s not just an online registration, it is an online educational registration. You have to read about the rules and regulations.”
Cwalinski believes, the online registration, “will stick to the wall.”
SFT is looking next to the spring as to how to best facilitate the annual sturgeon guard.
Even amidst COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), collaborators are firmly committed to protect spawning lake sturgeon throughout the Cheboygan River Watershed.
MDNR law enforcement division, U.S. Coast Guard, Cheboygan County Sheriff Department, tribes, and local people of the sturgeon continue to develop strategies, tactics and rules of engagement through covert scouting while sturgeon are vulnerable and spawning in the spring.
In the meantime, the March 15 deadline for students interested in applying for a SFT scholarship is about a month away. It’s for students from Onaway, Cheboygan and Inland Lakes interested in a career in fisheries.