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GLIN==> New York Times Article on Sturgeon

Tracy - great to see you quoted in the article.

Rich - can you send this out to the whole team?


 July 2, 2002                                                        (     
 Biologists Breathing New Life Into Ancient Habitat of Sturgeon      E     
 By DAVID BINDER                                                     m     
 (Embedded image moved to file: pic03557.gif)HAWANO, Wis. ? From a   d     
 distance of 100 feet, the Wolf River below the dam here appeared to e     
 be boiling from bank to bank.                                       d     
 Up close, the scene was of violent thrashing as lake sturgeon       a     
 gathered, five or more males crowding around a female, dark gray    g     
 and tubular like smallish torpedoes, sharp tail fins creasing the   e     
 surface, some of them leaping in flashing, crashing arcs.           m     
 This was the height of an annual spawning season here, about 40     e     
 miles west of Green Bay, and the sturgeon were cavorting as they    d     
 have for at least 200 million years, before the age of the          t     
 dinosaurs. These living relics, as Fred P. Binkowski, senior        o     
 fisheries biologist of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee,    f     
 calls them, are at the core of new efforts to restore the fish to   i     
 their ancestral waters here and far beyond.                         l     
 The Great Lakes were once home to one of the earth's largest        p     
 populations of sturgeons, which are rare and getting rarer          i     
 elsewhere in North America, Europe and Asia. The lake sturgeon here c     
 (Acipenser fulvescens Rafinesque) can grow to more than eight feet  2     
 in length. They are long-lived: females can live to over 100 and    8     
 males to about 40. But females do not spawn until they are in their 4     
 20's, and then only every four years.                               7     
 In the late 19th century, when Americans rather suddenly discovered g     
 a taste for sturgeon meat and the caviar of lake sturgeon, the      i     
 Great Lakes were credited with producing much of the world's        f     
 caviar.                                                             )     
 The sturgeon harvest in Michigan alone was four million pounds in         
 1880. Overfishing and increased damming of spawning streams for           
 power generation reduced the catch to two million pounds in 1890          
 and, by 1900, to a mere 200,000 pounds for all of the Great Lakes.        
 Similar crashes, or worse, have recently occurred in the sturgeon         
 waters of the former Soviet Union.                                        
 But at Lake Winnebago and in its rivers and streams, the outlook is       
 much brighter. Experts cite a conservation program begun 99 years         
 ago at the 165,000-acre lake, whose northern tip is 50 miles south        
 of here. Now, biologists are planning a long-term program using           
 Winnebago stocks that ideally will begin to rehabilitate sturgeon         
 in all five Great Lakes, starting with Lake Michigan.                     
 The spawning lake sturgeon are netted and released at a variety of        
 sites under the direction of Ronald M. Bruch, senior fisheries            
 biologist of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.               
 His team gathered at the Shawano Dam on the Wolf River as the water       
 temperature rose above 48 degrees, which is essential for inducing        
 spawning. After netting the squirming sturgeons, the team members         
 heaved them onto a measuring board. A helper clipped a metal tag          
 with a number on the tail fin while Mr. Bruch placed a tiny               
 transponder, used for tracking, under the fish's bony back plate.         
 Then the fish were slid back into the river. The largest of the 350       
 netted over two days was just over six feet long. In the last six         
 years, about 4,000 sturgeons, roughly 10 percent of the Winnebago         
 adult population, have been tagged.                                       
 Mr. Bruch singled out the females for his "Bruch stroke," a rapid         
 massage on the abdomen to force out eggs for laboratory use.              
 Meanwhile, females underwater were expelling eggs, an average of          
 400,000 apiece, as males beat on their sides and bottoms in the           
 natural manner that the Bruch stroke imitates. The eggs drift to          
 the shallow, rocky bottom, there to be fertilized by the clouds of        
 sperm simultaneously ejaculated at a rate of a hundred billion per        
 "In the wild, only about 1 percent of the eggs survive, hatch and         
 reach sexual maturity," Mr. Binkowski said. He takes eggs and sperm       
 collected by the Bruch teams and fertilizes the eggs on the spot.         
 Then he takes them to his laboratory, where he gets "90 percent to        
 hatch," he said.                                                          
 Besides the laboratory success, Mr. Bruch credits support for the         
 program by the local people, who donate money, help prevent               
 poaching and drum up legislative support.                                 
 Coinciding with the spawning is the annual Sturgeon Feast and             
 Powwow of the Menominee Indians, who once occupied nine million           
 acres of Wisconsin and now live on 234,000, just upriver from             
 Shawano. The fish are central to the tribe's creation myth, and           
 well into the 19th century the Menominee harvested spawning               
 sturgeon at Keshena Falls where, they believed, a giant drum beaten       
 by the high springtime waters called the fish to spawn.                   
 The Indians speared the sturgeon from small canoes. But the Shawano       
 Dam and another one upstream blocked the Winnebago spawning run to        
 the falls, and with it their annual dance and feast.                      
 Nine years ago the State Department of Natural Resources began            
 presenting the Menominees with 10 Winnebago sturgeon so they could        
 at least have their feast. For several years, the agency has also         
 been restocking nearby Legend and Upper Bass Lakes, hoping to             
 creating a large enough population to permit harvesting on the            
 The tribe of 8,700 members is responding with growing enthusiasm.         
 "I heard my folks talk about eating sturgeon when I was a kid, but        
 I never did until a few years ago when the feasts started," said          
 Dewey Thunder Jr., who is 61.                                             
 When the staccato crack and thundering of drums and high-pitched          
 singing subsided at the tribe's powwow in the high school gym in          
 Neopit, in the heart of the reservation, David Grignon, director of       
 the Menominee Historic Preservation Office, addressed the crowd:          
 "The sturgeon broke the long winters and replenished our food             
 supply. Today the sturgeon stop at Shawano Dam. When the dam is           
 gone, they will be with us here again."                                   
 Chances for a sturgeon revival may be better here than anywhere           
 else in the world. Wisconsin's tight restrictions, beginning in           
 1903 with an eight-pound limit on speared fish, have produced "the        
 only large, self-sustaining sturgeon population in the world," Mr.        
 Bruch said.                                                               
 "It is an American treasure," Mr. Binkowski declared. Winnebago is        
 now internationally renowned as a center of sturgeon rehabilitation       
 and research. Last year, the Wisconsin scientists convened a              
 sturgeon symposium at Oshkosh, drawing 430 participants from 30           
 Biologists at the University of Ferrara in Italy are using fin            
 tissue from Winnebago to pursue their genetic studies aimed at            
 rehabilitating the severely endangered Adriatic sturgeon (Acipenser       
 naccarii) in the Po River, while experts on the Chesapeake Bay and        
 the Tennessee River are asking about rejuvenating their minuscule         
 Amid huge green vats containing sturgeon of various ages in his           
 large Milwaukee laboratory, Fred Binkowski tells of his plans with        
 Ronald Bruch to use 1,000 lab-raised yearlings to restock the Upper       
 Fox River, which drains into Winnebago. "We'll surgically implant         
 radio tags in 24 yearlings, he said. "That will open up a whole new       
 base of information on habitat, temperatures and location. If we          
 catch the fish every couple of years, we'll be able to see its            
 evolutionary pattern.                                                     
 "By doing this," he continued, "we develop a template for Lake            
 Michigan. We are proposing a rehabilitation effort that will              
 stretch from Manitowoc all the way down to the Illinois-Indiana           
 border. If it is accepted, Chicago will play a big role because we        
 have historical data showing that sturgeon once spawned in the            
 shoals right offshore from the city."                                     
 Elsewhere on the Great Lakes, biologists of the federal Fish and          
 Wildlife Service, Canada's Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources          
 and Michigan's Department of Natural Resources are jointly studying       
 the age and movement of sturgeon populations. Their efforts are           
 aided by commercial fishermen and recreational divers.                    
 Tracy Hill, of the wildlife service at Alpena, Mich., works with 11       
 commercial fishermen who have inadvertently caught 302 sturgeon in        
 their nets since 1995 and measured and tagged them for the                
 scientists. One sturgeon originally tagged in Lake Winnebago in           
 1978 was caught in Lake Huron in 1993, in Lake Erie in 1997, and          
 finally died in 1999 in the harbor of Sandusky, Ohio.                     
 "We are working hand in glove with the Canadians, who have tagged         
 3,000 sturgeon in Lake Huron," he said, while biologists on the           
 Michigan side of Huron have tagged 1,000 in Lake St. Clair, just          
 above Detroit. Some specialists are working on designs of                 
 "staircases" to enable spawning sturgeon to bypass dams.                  
 "But we're looking at 50, 70, possibly 100 years to achieve that,"        
 Mr. Hill said. "That is a generation or two in a sturgeon's maximum       
 life span."                                                               
 Mr. Binkowski concurs. "We may argue, and do, that sturgeon are           
 probably the best aquatic indicator of the health of the Great            
 Lakes ecosystem," he said. "But it is a hard sell because the             
 public can't see instant results of our work and sturgeon                 
 rehabilitation could only be enjoyed by the great grandchildren of        
 its benefactors."                                                         
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