Despite objections from the Rainy River First Nation, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources intends to remove another 300 juvenile sturgeon from the Rainy River for transplant in the Red River watershed.
Netting of the fish is slated to start next week.
The young sturgeon—measuring about 22-32 inches in length—are destined for the Ottertail River below the Orwell Dam near Fergus Falls and the Big Detroit Lake at Detroit Lakes. It’s part of a five-year project to restock the Red River watershed with sturgeon.
Chief Jim Leonard said the band isn’t against the idea of stocking. But he and the residents there want to make sure the sturgeon population in the river is strong enough before it’s used as a resource for other watersheds.
“It’s in recovery right now,” Chief Leonard said, referring the fishery. “We want to make sure it continues to do so.”
When the DNR first started netting sturgeon in 1997, several band members went to the mouth of the river at Lake of the Woods and confiscated several nets floating in the water.
It wasn’t until last year that representatives from both sides met in Minneapolis and seemed to smooth things over, agreeing to do a genetic diversity study on the sturgeon in the Rainy River watershed.
“We’ve taken the lead on that,” Chief Leonard said. “We have worked out an arrangement with the University of Guelph and we’ll have a Ph.D. student collecting information here [next spring].”
The three-year study began this fall, with the university student looking at the background information before coming up here in May.
Both the band and DNR already have started to collect fin samples, Chief Leonard said. But he had hoped the DNR would put its project on hold until after the diversity study was done.
“We voiced our objection to them a number of times, trying to encourage them to put their work on hold until we could find out just what the status of the sturgeon was in the river,” Chief Leonard said.
“We don’t want to do anything to hurt the natural population,” he stressed.
But Chief Leonard also said the band would not stop the netting this time around.