Fall 2009

“Across the globe, in Russia and Iran, sturgeon are pursued for their eggs, the source of an exotic delicacy to be enjoyed by the wealthy. But here in Wisconsin, lake sturgeon belong to everyone, and they’re revered for what they are and have been for millions of years: a tough, old fish.” ­—People of the Sturgeon Photo: Bob Rashid
UW Sea Grant Outreach

People of the Sturgeon

By Kathleen Schmitt Kline

UW Sea Grant announces the release of People of the Sturgeon: Wisconsin’s Love Affair with an Ancient Fish, co-authored by science writer Kathleen Schmitt Kline, aquaculture specialist Fred Binkowski, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) sturgeon biologist Ron Bruch, with over 150 color photographs by the late Bob Rashid. The book was published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

People of the Sturgeon tells the poignant story of an ancient fish. Wanton harvest and habitat loss took a heavy toll on these prehistoric creatures until they teetered on the brink of extinction. But in Wisconsin, lake sturgeon have flourished because of the dedicated work of WDNR staff, university researchers, and a determined group of sturgeon spearers known as Sturgeon For Tomorrow. Thanks to these efforts, spearers can still flock by the thousands to Lake Winnebago’s frozen expanse each winter to take part in a ritual rooted in the traditions of the Menominee and other Wisconsin Indians. In spring, sturgeon enthusiasts line east-central Wisconsin riverbanks to observe—and protect—the massive fish as they spawn. Ultimately, 100 years of sturgeon management on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago has produced the world’s largest and healthiest lake sturgeon population—and may hold answers for struggling sturgeon populations elsewhere in the world.

Through a fascinating collection of images, stories, and interviews, People of the Sturgeon chronicles the history of this remarkable fish (which can live for a century and grow to 300 pounds) and the cultural traditions it has spawned. The authors introduce a colorful cast of characters—from conservationists to spear makers to decoy carvers—many with a good fish tale to tell. Color photos by the late Bob Rashid and vintage images from the Wisconsin Historical Society evoke both the magical and the mundane. Weaving together myriad voices and examining the sturgeon’s profound cultural impact, the authors reveal how a diverse group of people are now joined together as “people of the sturgeon.”

UW Sea Grant has supported lake sturgeon research and outreach since 1981, shortly after Fred Binkowski, in cooperation with Don Czeskleba at the WDNR Wild Rose Fish Hatchery, developed techniques necessary for the first successful artificial propagation of lake sturgeon from eggs to post-fingerling fish, making Wisconsin the first state to successfully raise lake sturgeon under controlled laboratory/hatchery conditions. In gathering material for the book, the authors and volunteers from Sturgeon For Tomorrow conducted more than 60 interviews with assistance from the UW Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures. These interviews, as well as donated photos and artifacts, will be archived at the Oshkosh Public Museum, which preserves the heritage of Oshkosh and the Lake Winnebago region.

Sturgeon For Tomorrow, a local nonprofit conservation group, provided $25,000 to support the production and marketing of People of the Sturgeon. Through its Sturgeon Spearing License Fund, the WDNR provided additional funds for production and to hire Bob Rashid to serve as the book’s photographer. UW Sea Grant provided support through staff time from Kline, the book’s lead author, and Tina Yao, who designed the book’s visual concept and cover.

For purchase information, visit http://aqua.wisc.edu/publications/

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

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