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Summary

Lake sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens are imperiled throughout the Laurentian Great Lakes basin. Efforts to restore this species to former population levels have been ineffective due in part to limited information regarding its early life history. The objectives of this study were to characterize the larval drift and biological attributes of age-0 lake sturgeon in the lower Peshtigo River, Wisconsin. Lake sturgeon larvae were captured from May to June 2002 and 2003 using drift nets, while age-0 juveniles were captured from June through October 2002 and 2003 using wading, snorkeling, backpack electrofishing, and haul-seine surveys. Larval drift occurred within 14 days of adult spawning and extended from 1 to 3 weeks in duration, with two peaks in the number of fish drifting downstream each year. Larvae had a median total length (TL) of 19 mm (range: 13–23; N = 159) in 2002 and 18 mm (range: 13–24; N = 652) in 2003. Catch-per-unit-effort for larvae was 0.18 fish h−1 m2 and 0.94 fish h−1 m2 in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Age-0 juvenile lake sturgeon exhibited rapid growth (i.e. 2.57 mm day−1 in TL and 0.66 g day−1 in wet weight) throughout summer and fall months; relative condition of fish in both years was approximately 100, indicating good condition. Absolute abundance of age-0 juveniles in 2003 was estimated at 261 fish using the Schnabel estimator. The results from this study indicate that the lower Peshtigo River contains important nursery habitats suitable for age-0 lake sturgeon.