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Sturgeon Spawning Update from Ron Bruch on May 11, 2011

May 11, 2011

Can you believe it?  The sturgeon are still spawning in Shawano so if you haven’t made it out to see them yet this year you haven’t missed your chance!  This update has been posted with permission from Ron Bruch and the Wisconsin DNR:

“The lake sturgeon spawning marathon continues at the Shawano spawning site below the paper mill dam – unbelievable! I just checked the Wolf River Cam and the show is still going on http://wolfrivercam.com/Shawano%20Above.html. The warm weather has apparently rolled all of the potential final “runs” of fish into one massive spawning frenzy that is lasting for days on end. An incredible spectacle that is a testimony to the robust lake sturgeon population that inhabits the Winnebago System.

As good as we thought our population of lake sturgeon was coming into the 21st Century, 10 years later, it appears to be even better – not only with the significant increase in super trophy sized fish (>150 lbs) we’ve seen over the last decade, but also just in the estimated sheer numbers of adults in the stock. I’ve attached plots showing the trends in densities of adult male and female lake sturgeon in the Winnebago System along with photos of a 74 inch male and a 74 inch female we captured just a week or so ago. You can see in both plots the downward trend in population size of both sexes in the 1990s following the high exploitation levels we experienced before the harvest cap system was implemented in 1997. Since the early 2000s though you can see a complete turn around to an increasing trend line in the estimated numbers of both sexes. Keep in mind that what we have in the rivers in any given spring during the spawning run is about 25% of the adult females and 75% of the adult males (which translates into having approximately 4000 females and 18000 males making the spawning run in 2011 – no wonder they won’t quit spawning!).

The bottom line is that our harvest management system works quite well providing us the flexibility to match the harvest caps each year with increases (or decreases) in the adult lake sturgeon stock. By keeping our annual spear harvest rate at or below 5% of the harvestable stock, we expect to see the Winnebago lake sturgeon population continue to flourish, and our sturgeon spear fishery continue to be an important part of Wisconsin culture for many years to come.

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

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