PORT CLINTON: Ohio’s wildlife agency is studying whether to make another attempt at bringing back a sport fish that disappeared many decades ago from Lake Erie and rivers in northern Ohio.
Researchers plan on using DNA to determine whether sauger could be restored to the lake and the rivers that flow into it.
Sauger disappeared from the area in the 1950s because of overfishing and habitat loss. It’s often compared with the walleye, one of Lake Erie’s most popular sport fish.
The state’s natural resources department stocked sauger from the Missouri River in Lake Erie for three years during the 1970s, but it didn’t work, said Jeff Tyson, the department’s Lake Erie fish management program administrator.
The Missouri River fish came from a different climate and habitat and may not have been able to adjust, he said.
“We’re essentially going back and doing the same thing, but trying to cross off some of those reasons why it didn’t take,” he told the Port Clinton News Herald.
Wildlife officials think sauger that has similar DNA to the ones that once lived in Lake Erie would have a better chance of adapting and surviving in the lake.
The state is working with the U.S. Geological Survey in Ann Arbor, Mich., to test populations of sauger. They’re considering Lake Ontario sauger from the St. Lawrence Seaway, Ohio River sauger and ones from a Minnesota lake.
Lake Ontario has the only known population of the sauger in the Great Lakes, Tyson said.
“Hopefully, in the next year, we’ll have an idea,” he said.
Restoring sauger would help balance the food chain, Tyson said. They eat small fish like emerald shiners and gizzard shad.
Sauger usually grow to 15 inches, but can reach 24. They mostly stay in warmer near-shore water and turbid water.
Rick Unger, who runs a charter fishing boat out of Marblehead, said he would like to see sauger returned to Lake Erie. “It would give shore fishermen more opportunity,” he said.