Sturgeon spawning below Shawano Dam attracts spectators and scientists

Sturgeon netted below Shawano Dam, April 19, 2017 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

SHAWANO, Wis. (WLUK) -- It was a busy Wednesday on parts of the Wolf River. The sturgeon run has gone 125 miles from Lake Winnebago to the Shawano Dam in the City of Shawano.

Dozens and dozens of tail fins signaled the run, as the prehistoric fish are in the shallows, to spawn. Sturgeon Park in Shawano is a popular spot for both spectators, and scientists.

Three days into the sturgeon spawning run, and giant fish are active below the Shawano Dam.

"The warm water over Easter weekend really pushed the fish. We had the river temperature went from 48 to about 57 in two days," said Ryan Koenigs, Wisconsin DNR sturgeon biologist.

Crews from the Department of Natural Resources, and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, netted fish Wednesday morning.

"We hope to handle anywhere around 500-600 fish today," said Koenigs.

The fish are measured and tagged. Select sturgeon eggs and milt are collected and combined on site. For the past 17 seasons, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service crew drove 22 hours from The Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery in Georgia.

"Our population was almost extinct," said Carlos Echevarria, Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery Manager.

175,000 eggs are expected to help the Lake Sturgeon population in the Tennessee River watershed and more. And 17 years later, biologists are telling stories of success.

"It's going very well. We're starting to see a good number of fish in the river. and every year, the fish are growing. We already have some fish over 50-60 inches in length," said Echevarria.

In addition to the science, sturgeon watching is quite the spectator sport. Dozens and dozens of people come from near and far, to take it all in.

"About an hour and forty minutes," said Gerry Hall of Wallace, Michigan.

Gerry and his wife, Cindy, drove from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

"I've seen sturgeon, but not like this, It's pretty cool," he said.

"I think it's amazing. It's just something that you don't see everyday," said Cindy Wall.

The sights and sounds won't last long. The DNR says the spawning run could be wrapped up on the Wolf River by the end of the week.

The fish eggs typically take about a week to hatch.

The tiny sturgeon larvae drift downstream back to the Lake Winnebago System.

After a month and a half, the sturgeon will already be about three and a half inches long.

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