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Update from Ron Bruch on Feb. 18, 2011

February 18, 2011

Another interesting update below from Ron Bruch including information on the sturgeon population in the Winnebago system.  With temperatures in the 30’s, the water and slush is starting to freeze again on the lake making travel on the ice easier than the last few days.  It was a windy one today and my dad said trying to walk around on the ice was pretty difficult.  Hopefully no one’s shanty blew away (I’ve heard about this happening many times–shanties start sliding away on the ice!).  My dad was excited to report that he saw his first sturgeon of the season today off of Firelane 8, but disappointed that he threw the spear and missed this time.  There’s always tomorrow though and maybe a few days after that yet, but we’ll see.  I’ll be out on the ice tomorrow enjoying yet another day of sunshine and the second Saturday of the season.  Good luck!

(This update has been posted with permission from the Wisconsin DNR and Ron Bruch.)

“Winnebago Sturgeon Spearing Report – Thursday February 18

See Sturgeon Vignette below: “Lake Sturgeon and their Management on the Winnebago System”

About the same today as yesterday harvest-wise (50 fish total), but….good news! – conditions seem to be improving on the lakes with the cold weather that moved in last night. Dozens of shanties were being moved back onto Lake Winnebago today by spearers planning to give ‘er for what may be the last weekend of the 2011 season. Water off Stockbridge on the east shore is still very clear with good harvests (considering the relatively low effort) coming from this area. Harvest success has also greatly improved off Payne’s Point on the west shore.

Upriver Lakes are still open tomorrow (Saturday) as only two adult females were registered there today. We should hit the 90% closure trigger tomorrow (we need 2 more adult females to hit this trigger) which would mean the season on the URL would close on Sunday Feb 20 at 12:30 PM; although, if 10 adult females are harvested there tomorrow (Saturday) the season on the URL would close tomorrow at 12:30 PM. The season on Lake Winnebago continues – 239 adult females are needed on Lake Winnebago yet to pop the 90% closure trigger there.

The overall harvest total for the day was 50 including 2 fish 100 lbs or larger (4.0% of today’s harvest; 2 from Lake Winnebago and 0 from the Upriver Lakes). The largest – a 115.3 pound, 69.4 inch F2 female from Lake Winnebago registered at our Wendt’s Station in Van Dyne by Kevin Abraham of Fond du Lac.

List of totals by station and the largest fish registered at each station today is in the attached daily report for February 18, 2011.

Totals by lake area and harvest category:

Lake Winnebago: 4 Juvenile Females
21 Adult Females
18 Males
43 Lake Winnebago Total for the Day – 894 total for season

Upriver Lakes: 2 Juvenile Females
2 Adult Females
3 Males
7 Upriver Lakes Total for the Day – 314 total for season

System-Wide: 6 Juvenile Females
23 Adult Females
21 Males
50 System-wide Total for the Day

1208 System-wide Total for the Season

Lake Sturgeon and their Management on the Winnebago System

The lake sturgeon in the Winnebago System is one of 8 species of sturgeon in North America, and one of 25 species found worldwide. Sturgeon of course are internationally known for their caviar, but they also have been an important food item for many cultures for 100’s of years. While abundant worldwide at one time (at least north of the equator where they are found naturally), literally every population in the world of every species has suffered overexploitation to one degree or another over the centuries. Generally sturgeon are extremely vulnerable to overharvest due to their late maturation and because they typically do not spawn every year. Winnebago lake sturgeon females don’t spawn for the first time until they are 20 to 34 years of age (48” to 60” long); and then only spawn every 3-5 years. Fifty percent of them are mature at age 27 when they are 55 inches long. Males don’t spawn for the first time until they are 14 to 31 years old (40” to 55” long); and then spawn every 1-3 years. Many populations have been diminished to a point close to ultimate extirpation due to overfishing and habitat loss, while some, despite being exploited have been able to sustain, and in at least one case, even flourish.

One population that has flourished is our Winnebago lake sturgeon population. We have been actively managing this population for over 100 years. Prior to 1903 there were few regulations for controlling sturgeon harvest in Wisconsin. In 1903 an 8 lb minimum size limit was put into effect for all sturgeon harvest in the state, and, following the crash of the stocks of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes in the early 20th Century, all lake sturgeon harvest in the state was banned in 1915. In 1932 the Wisconsin legislature passed into law a Winnebago sturgeon spearing season as part of a state economic stimulus bill during the Great Depression. Each person with a fishing license was allowed 5 fish per year, 30 inches or larger (tags were a nickel a piece), and they could harvest them during the winter spearing season on Lake Winnebago, during a fall set line season on the Upriver Lakes, or during a fall hook and line season on the Wolf River. Over time the seasons, gear, bag limits and size limits changed to give us the season we have today – a bag of one 36” or larger fish per year to anyone holding a sturgeon spearing license during the winter spear fishery where harvest is controlled through our harvest cap system. Since 1992 twenty two regulations were developed and forwarded jointly through the legislative or rule making process by the Department working with the Winnebago Citizens Sturgeon Advisory Committee. These rules and laws were put in place to give us the current harvest management system, and the outstanding sturgeon population and spear fishery we now enjoy.

There is much more to this story including how we set harvest caps each year, how we track exploitation, how Sturgeon for Tomorrow and other conservation clubs helped build the sturgeon fishery we have today, and……… Stay tuned…………

Till tomorrow,

Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources”

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