The Missouri department of conservation received a special delivery from Genoa, Wisconsin: a truck full of just under 10,000 lake sturgeon. It's something the Genoa National Fish Hatchery does every year for Missouri and other areas of the Midwest.
Thousands of lake sturgeon not much longer than 6 inches each were loaded early Thursday morning for an all day trip back to Missouri, where they are sorely needed.
"They were almost extricated in the early 80's and that's when they started thinking about restoring them to the Mississippi River," said Hatchery Manager Doug Aloisi.
These prehistoric bottom feeders have been around for 135 million years. They are native species to the Mississippi River and play an essential part of the ecosystem by cleaning up the riverbeds and feeding on invasive species like zebra mussels.
"They really impact our freshwater mussel populations by using them as substrate and causing them to not be able to feed and reproduce," Aloisi said.
Installation of the lock and dam system over time shifted their migration patterns and made spawning more difficult, lowering the population along with some other factors. Given that the lake sturgeon takes between 15 and 20 years to reach spawning age, it's a difficult trend to fight.
"Once their populations start to get dwindled through pollution or over-fishing or habitat destruction it takes a long time to recover."
Once they are old enough to survive the journey, it's into a specialized truck to take them to their new home.
"We have eight 85-gallon tanks on here," said Bradley Kunce, a resource tech with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "We have supplied oxygen for it, we also have an aeration system to put air in, so we keep the D.O's up so the fish can arrive healthy."
Before being sent out to restore population, each sturgeon is injected with a coded wire tag to help the fish and wildlife service track population numbers from year to year. All that work is done by volunteers, this year they have tagged and sent out 50,000 sturgeon.