Approximately 10 years ago, federal, state, and university scientists took a gamble and reintroduced lake sturgeon into the Genesee River. They believed that the river's water quality and pollution levels had improved enough that the fish could survive, grow, and ultimately reproduce.
And so far, they've been right. The fish are growing at good rates, fueled in part by diets of high-fat fly larvae and zebra mussels from the river bottom, says Jeff Wyatt, a University of Rochester professor and chief veterinarian for the Seneca Park Zoo.
"It's all good news: that's the bottom line," Wyatt says.
Wyatt and other researchers are also taking blood samples from the fish and testing them for heavy metals, pesticides, and PCBs. They're comparing them to samples from sturgeon in the unpolluted Oswegatchie River in the northern part of the state.
And the early results of that work are positive. The testing shows that cadmium and mercury blood levels in the local sturgeon match the levels found in the Oswegatchie fish, Wyatt says. Researchers are awaiting results of blood tests for approximately 200 other substances, he says.
The fish will be healthier if they aren't exposed to the heavy metals or to the other substances the researchers are testing for. But the results also show that the lake and river are healthier, too.
The Genesee River and the Rochester Embayment – a recessed area of the lake between Parma and Webster – are known to have large amounts of contaminated sediment. But the tests on the bottom-dwelling sturgeon may actually show that new sediment is encapsulating the old, contaminated sediment, which is a positive development, Wyatt says.