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Federal bill would exempt Michigan sturgeon from 'endangered' listing

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A Michigan Congressman is introducing legislation that would ensure the future of the state's lake sturgeon season.

The Michigan Sturgeon Protected and Exempt from Absurd Regulations Act — or Michigan SPEAR Act — would exempt lake sturgeon in Michigan from being listed as federally endangered.

"It's time to transfer this authority from the federal government back to the state and local levels where it belongs,” said Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), the bill's sponsor.

In a statement, Bergman said the endangered designation would "hinder" conservation work done by state, tribal and local partners to restore the species.

The legislation is modeled after a similar bill (also called the SPEAR Act) introduced by congressional members from Wisconsin — the only other state where sturgeon spearing is permitted.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to make a decision on lake sturgeon's federal status later this year.

Jay Woiderski, the president of Sturgeon for Tomorrow, said the group supports the Michigan SPEAR Act.

In a recent WCMU report, Woiderski said sturgeon spearing is important to northern Michigan's cultural heritage, and the limited season is highly controlled.

"We don't need federal government oversight that will just cause a hindrance to some of the work that's already being done," Woiderski said. "... Keeping the sturgeon around is absolutely our No. 1 goal."

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources previously told WCMU the state feels the endangered listing is "unwarranted."

"All of the data we've got in hand and we've been collecting indicates that sturgeon are doing just fine," said Ed Baker, a DNR fisheries research manager. "Populations are expanding, and we're reintroducing sturgeon in a number of places."

In a statement to WCMU, a USFWS representative said the agency is working closely to "conserve and restore" Michigan sturgeon and support tribes' "cultural identity that is tied to lake sturgeon."

"We are working with our partners on essential actions for lake sturgeon management include assessing population status, distribution, and movement, wild fish health screening, and stocking with our hatcheries and streamside rearing facilities," wrote Melissa Clark, a USFWS public affairs specialist.

Editor's note: In the interest of transparency, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is a financial supporter of WCMU.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.
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