Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Winnebago sturgeon tag sales up

Editor

Oshkosh, Wis. Sales of Lake Winnebago system sturgeon spearing
tags for the 2005 season increased by about 1,500 tags from last
year, with much of the increase attributed to the fact that an
“upriver lakes” season will be open.

The current season framework includes an upriver season on lakes
Winneconne, Poygan, and Butte des Morts, and is opened just once
every five years, according to Ron Bruch, DNR sturgeon biologist in
Oshkosh.

Sturgeon move out of Lake Winnebago in the fall and stage in the
upriver lakes during winter, awaiting the spring spawning run. With
the number of fish in that part of the system, where the water is
shallower than on Lake Winnebago, spearing success runs higher,
thus attracting more spearers.

As of the Oct. 31 sturgeon tag purchasing deadline, the DNR had
sold a total of 10,456 tags for the 2005 February season.

Last year, the first year of the Oct. 31 deadline, the state
sold 8,912 spearing tags all for Lake Winnebago.

This year, with the upriver season available, sturgeon spearers
had to specify whether they were buying a tag for the upriver
lakes, or Winnebago.

The DNR sold 6,252 resident tags and 107 nonresident tags for
Winnebago a total of 6,310 spearing tags.

The DNR also sold 4,010 resident tags and 87 nonresident tags
for the upriver lakes a total of 4,065 tags for upriver.

The resident tags sell for $20; nonresident tags are $50. With a
total of 10,262 resident tags at $205,240 and 194 nonresident tags
at $9,700, the DNR collected $214,940 for the state’s sturgeon
program.

As of Oct. 19, the DNR had sold just 5,990 tags. Spearers bought
almost 5,000 licenses between Oct. 19 and Oct. 31.

“With the upriver lakes open in 2005, I was expecting to see us
sell a few more licenses than last year, but the final number is
higher than I thought it would be, based on sales through Oct. 19,”
Bruch said. “Things really surged at the end.”

Where does the money go?

Money collected by the DNR through sturgeon tag sales may only
be used by the agency for sturgeon projects, according to Bruch.
The agency cannot legally use any of those funds in other
areas.

“A few of the primary things we’re using the money for right now
are population assessment work and our annual harvest assessment
where we register every fish and collect data,” Bruch said. “We’re
also developing and maintaining spawning habitat on the rivers and
we initiated an extensive sturgeon distribution and migration study
using this money. That study uses sonic tagging and radio tags to
track sturgeon movement. In the end, the information we gather from
this study will allow us to set more accurate and precise harvest
caps.”

DNR sturgeon workers also are looking into doing a study on
sturgeon genetics. A sturgeon geneticist from Italy has asked Bruch
whether Wisconsin would want to cooperate on the study.

“We haven’t committed to that study yet, but it would tell us
the minimum number of adults we need to collect eggs and sperm from
to ensure that the offspring have adequate genetic variability to
guard against inbreeding or other genetic problems,” Bruch
said.

“Plus, we have already started a restoration program on the
Upper Fox River we’re in the third year so it would be helpful
there,” he said. “And there are other restoration projects ongoing
or planned on other waters, such as the Lower Wisconsin, Chippewa,
and Manitowish rivers. In some of these remnant populations, there
might only be a few females spawning. If we take eggs from just one
or two fish, is that enough genetic variability to ensure we’re
doing the right thing? This study would help tell us that.”

The DNR also is spending some of the tag money with the
UW-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources, where Dr. Mike
Hansen and his graduate students are working to develop a model of
the Winnebago sturgeon population.

Season framework

Bruch said the DNR and Winnebago Sturgeon Advisory Committee
members also are discussing a possible change to the sturgeon
spearing season framework that, if adopted, could begin as early as
the 2006 season.

“We are taking a look at several possible season scenarios
following the 2005 season, and one of the scenarios would be the
creation of an intensive zone fishery,” he said. “These would be
created in areas of high fishing effort and fish numbers, such as
the upriver lakes and the south end of Lake Winnebago. Those areas
would be identified as intensive zones and there would be a
separate lottery in those areas to limit the number of spearers and
decrease the effort and harvest from those areas. This scenario
would give us the option of opening the upriver lakes more often
than once every five years.”

Under this proposal, the remainder of the Lake Winnebago pool
would be an open fishery. If a spearer applied for a tag under the
lottery system in an intensive zone, and did not draw a tag, that
person would then still be allowed to buy a tag for the regular
area.

Bruch said he will schedule public meetings this winter to
discuss the proposal.

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