By MAX KING
Capital News Service
LANSING – The Black Lake winter sturgeon season ended after only four days when the last of a six-fish quota allowed this year was speared.
Gil and Brenda Archambo have a long history of fishing for and preserving lake sturgeon. Both work with Sturgeon for Tomorrow, a Cheboygan-based nonprofit organization devoted to the conservation of a fish that can live more than 70 years and grow to be more than 6 feet long.
This year, Claudia Wright of Onaway speared the largest sturgeon at 66 inches and 67 pounds, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Brenda Archambo, president of the group, remembers the first time she saw a lake sturgeon. She was about 6.
She and her grandfather “were out there in a shanty one day and there was a commotion going on and we went over, and there was this big fish on the ice and it was very iconic.
“I never forgot looking into the eye of the sturgeon. It reminded me of pictures I had seen of dinosaurs,” she said.
Lake sturgeon also live in Burt and Mullet lakes in Cheboygan County, but fishing is prohibited there because the species is scarce, according to the DNR, which determines how many of the fish can be caught each year
The department set a Black Lake harvest rate of 1.2 percent of the sturgeon population for 2013.
Elsewhere in the state, one sturgeon per person can be caught with hook-and-line equipment with no quota.
In Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River, the season runs from July 16 through Sept. 30, for Otsego Lake, July 16 through March 15 and on the Menominee River from the first Saturday in September through Sept.30, according to DNR.
Gil Archambo said he enjoys the camaraderie that people bring to the shivaree at Black Lake, an annual celebration that coincides with the winter season.
“It’s like your hunting buddies that would go to hunting camp with you, only on a lot larger scale,” he said.
It was a unique experience when, at the age of 13, he caught his first sturgeon, he said.
Although the Archambos say they have great memories of lake sturgeon over the years, they have negative ones as well because the fish is threatened.
In the 1950s and 1960s, poaching was common in Black Lake and elsewhere in the state, Gil Archambo said. “There were poachers that took actual truckloads of them.”
In the late 1990s, the state was going to shut the fishery down because of the poaching, said DNR biologist Tim Cwalinski, but the Black Lake community wanted improved management instead.
“The people who were telling us that we need to do something also said, ‘Don’t close the fishery,’” said Cwalinski, who is based in Gaylord.
As a result, what used to be a month-long winter fishing season now runs a maximum of four days.
Max King writes for Great Lakes Echo.