KESHENA - Five hundred sturgeon fingerlings were released into the upper Wolf River as part of an effort to replenish the dwindling sturgeon population in that part of the river.
The Menominee Tribe says Keshena Falls used to be a spawning hotspot for the fish hundreds of years ago. However, they say that ended when dams were put downstream in the early 1900's preventing the fish from moving farther north.
"It means everything to our tribe," said tribal chairman Randal Chevalier. "It sustained our people for many many years. It was the food that provided sustenance to the tribe; it was also our medicine and was the ceremonial fish."
It is a joint effort with the DNR.
Fisheries supervisor Ron Bruch says it is an off-shoot of a program where the DNR releases 500 sturgeon into parts of the Fox River every year. Bruch says they collect and fertilize thousands of eggs every spawning season to hatch and raise them at the Great Lakes WATER Institute, associated with UW-Milwaukee. These fish are extras of those hatched, and would have been destroyed otherwise.
The raising program is independently funded by the group Sturgeon for Tomorrow.
All of the fish are tagged and traceable. While the DNR says some may move downstream and eventually into the Lake Winnebago area, it expects many to stay near Keshena.
Bruch says this one strand of a rejuvenated restocking effort.
"Then also capturing and transferring adult fish that can spawn up and try to do it naturally with the natural cycle," said Bruch, who says that will be about 100 fish per year starting in the fall.
The tribe and the DNR have also discussed the possibility of using fish ladders, device that would allow the sturgeon to swim up and over the dam.
The tribe and the DNR had been working together on the sturgeon management effort since 1993. That stopped four years ago because of concerns about the spread of the deadly fish disease VHS. However, the DNR has since determined that sturgeon are not susceptible to the virus.
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