Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s In the Archives column for The Chronicle appears monthly. Look for it around the end of every month. Subsequent to the appearance of this article, Bien was interviewed by Interlochen Public Radio about Great Lakes sturgeon. Listen to the interview online via the Interlochen Public Radio website.
Twenty thousand dinosaurs live in the river system bordering Detroit. They’re rugged descendants of the few who survived one of Michigan’s worst ecological disasters, against which one University of Michigan professor battled – in vain. His efforts were crushed by Michigan’s short-lived yet feverish caviar industry.
Among the most primitive of fish, sturgeon first appeared when the Earth had just one continent. Millenia later the lake sturgeon thickly populated the Great Lakes and was fished by native peoples.
A young adventurer of noble French birth described the fish in his 1703 bestseller whose English title is “New Voyages to North America.” Baron de Lahontan’s book detailed the experiences gleaned from a decade of travel in New France, the onetime colony that encompassed most of present-day eastern Canada and the U.S. He wrote of Lake Erie, “[I]t abounds with sturgeon and whitefish, but trout are very scarce in it as well as the other fish that we take in the Lakes of Hurons and [Michigan].”