Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Sturgeon poaching could bring reg changes


Marinette and Sauk City, Wis. Two DNR wardens who see sharply
increased pressure on lake sturgeon during the fall hook-and-line
season believe an increase in sturgeon poaching is going to force
the DNR to make regulation changes for the fall season.

Conservation wardens Mike Kitt, of Marinette County, patrols the
Menominee River and John Buss, of Sauk County, patrols the Lower
Wisconsin River. Both rivers fall under the alternating 50- and
70-inch lake sturgeon size limits, with the 50-inch limit in place
this year (odd-numbered years).

“Fishing pressure increases dramatically during the 50-inch
years,” Kitt said.

So do the violations.

Both wardens note that most local anglers, and even a high
number of visiting resident anglers know the laws and abide by
them. Most of the violations are committed by visiting nonresident
anglers, most of them from the greater Chicago area, with
southeastern Wisconsin residents making up the next largest group.
On the Chippewa River near Eau Claire, most of the tickets are
written to visiting anglers from the Twin Cities area of

“Most of the violations are the result of untagged sturgeon and
undersized sturgeon, which are criminal violations, and a lot of
smaller violations like unattended lines, too many lines, and
boating-related violations,” Buss said.

Kitt is sitting on nine sturgeon violations from this
hook-and-line season five for not immediately tagging sturgeon, two
for borrowing or loaning sturgeon tags, one for snagging, and one
for overbagging. Michigan wardens also have cited anglers on their
side of the Menominee, and those cases are not included in Kitt’s

Kitt also has issued a number of warnings.

“I see a lot of sub-legal fish being caught, so there is also a
concern with the way the fish are handled,” he said. “We see a lot
of mortality after sturgeon are released. We see anglers pick them
up by the tails, keep them out of the water for up to 10 minutes
while taking pictures, and trying to measure them.”

Buss has about four criminal cases and 15 to 20 tickets on
related violations.

All of Kitt’s current cases are set for hearing Oct. 20 in
Marinette County Circuit Court. Fines in his nine cases should
total $3,378. For instance, the fine for not immediately tagging a
sturgeon is $517. The Michigan warden has another $400 in fines
ready for court.

“I have eight individuals heading to court on nine violations,”
Kitt said. “All of them are nonresidents from the Chicago area. A
lot of it could be ignorance on the part of the anglers. There also
seems to be a language barrier at times, and they don’t take the
time to learn the law.”

Kitt credits MBK Sport Shop owners Ron and Patricia
Vanlerberghe, of Marinette, with doing a lot of work to educate the
visiting anglers. The Vanlerberghes also work with the anglers on
littering issues.

“A lot of the people coming up are Polish or eastern European
people who are now living in the Chicago area, or in southeast
Wisconsin Russians, Germans, Czechs, Hungarians,” said Ron
Vanlerberghe. “Sturgeon are trophy fish in their countries. My wife
is third-generation Polish, and she tries to help everyone out so
they don’t get in trouble. Many of them don’t understand English,
so we help get them the right gear and baits.”

Kitt said the Vanlerberghes even found a Polish interpreter who
has helped the nonresident anglers learn the laws.

The Vanlerberghes have been running their shop for 10 years. In
that time, they’ve seen a sharp increase in the fishing pressure
during the fall hook-and-line season, especially during the 50-inch

“Right now, we have 99 legal fish registered. This year, we will
probably see three times the normal harvest that would have
occurred before the regulations changed. We had been averaging
about 50 legals then,” Ron Vanlerberghe said.

All of those 99 fish are from below the Marinette dam. Anglers
also are fishing the river above the dam. Along the entire river,
Kitt said anglers had registered about 160 legal fish as of Sept.
30. The biggest is a 691/2-incher.

“This year’s harvest is on a record pace,” Kitt said of the
Menominee River. “We will break the record of 189 sturgeon from two
years ago. That has me concerned. Our participation in this fishery
has been similar to what they’re seeing on Lake Winnebago spearing.
Pressure is increasing every year, and I don’t know how long these
fish can stand this kind of pressure.”

Kitt and Buss both dedicated most of their fall work time to
sturgeon enforcement.

“We’re seeing more violations than we’ve ever had. I’ve been
spending more time on sturgeon violations than ever before,” Kitt
said. “Two things happened. I went to a Lake Michigan basin
sturgeon management meeting where four Great Lakes states work on
rehabilitation of sturgeon. I came away with a new sense of urgency
in sturgeon protection. I made a personal commitment to put forth
some time on this season. Plus, our budget is in such dire straits,
we have no budget to drive anywhere. I can do a lot of enforcement
without driving a lot of miles.”

Buss is seeing similar problems on the Lower Wisconsin.

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