While the lake sturgeon spawning spectacle on the Winnebago System is unfolding now and grabbing the biggest headlines, sturgeon populations on several major state rivers are quietly recording some significant milestones, state fisheries officials say.
“It’s been a great year for sturgeon restoration efforts,” says Karl Scheidegger, co-leader of the Department of Natural Resources sturgeon team. “We’re beginning to see the fruits of past and present biologists’ labor. It’s exciting to witness the milestones.”
Among the milestones:
- DNR has confirmed that lake sturgeon from the initial stocking of fall fingerling sturgeon in the 1990s have survived and are living in the Upper Wisconsin River. It’s an encouraging sign that lake sturgeon in the Upper Wisconsin River will reproduce on their own and stocking may no longer be needed to support a population, they say.
- A 48-inch lake sturgeon and similarly sized second fish captured on Earth Day on the Milwaukee River by DNR fisheries crews conducting surveys proves that lake sturgeon are surviving in the river and moving upstream for the first time in a century. Improved water quality as a result of Clean Water Act regulations allowed DNR to start stocking the river, and key dam removals have removed barriers to fish movement. Now a partnership with the Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg allows lake sturgeon to be raised in a streamside rearing facility owned by DNR and operated by center volunteers before being released into the river with the hope they’ll return to the river when it’s time to spawn.
- Efforts to re-introduce sturgeon on the Menominee Indian Reservation appear to be working; last spring DNR fisheries crews saw evidence of natural spawning occurring just below Keshena Falls and expect to see it again this year.
- Peshtigo staff collected and fertilized sturgeon eggs for rearing at Wild Rose State Hatchery. DNR stocked 300 fall fingerlings with Wild Rose Hatchery staff in the Sturgeon Falls section of the Menominee River.
Restoration of sturgeon to major waters in Wisconsin has been going on for the last generation, a long-term commitment given that lake sturgeon don’t spawn until they are 21 to 34 years old, and then only every three to five years.
People can see lake sturgeon up close during the spawning season on the Lake Winnebago system. That system boasts the state’s and the world’s largest population of the fish, which can grow to more than 200 pounds and live longer than 100 years, Scheidegger says.
People can find maps showing good viewing locations along the Wolf River and daily spawning reports by searching the DNR website for “lake sturgeon spawning.”
Logo and video courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources