Video: Looking in on Lake Monona Sturgeon

As fall gives in to winter, we thought we’d hold the long cold season off a bit more with a tale from open water days and the warming months of spring…
A number of years ago, CFL senior research technician, Ted Bier, got a call from a friend who had just biked in to campus from the east side of Madison. The friend had spotted a couple of large fish offshore and thought they might be carp or muskies. Bier had a different hunch so, on the way home, he brought his dive equipment and underwater camera. He knew it would be a long shot to find the fish sight unseen in Monona’s murky water, but Bier started at the spot his friend had identified and, after only 10 minutes of searching, spotted the 6-foot-long form of a lake sturgeon hovering over the lake bed. Minutes later, he spotted its companion. The video of his encounter is below.

As a species, lake sturgeon have been around a long, long time. Their prehistoric status is reflected in the bony, shell-shaped plates, called schutes, that cover their body instead of the smaller, more flexible scales of modern fish.  On an individual level, sturgeon can also nearly be “ancient”- Bier says the pair he found in Lake Monona could easily have been tiny little young of the years back before World War II broke out.This pair, he says, can often be spotted near the Tenney Park Lock and Dam in spring as they heed their instinctive call to spawn and head upstream.
Wisconsin has the world’s healthiest sturgeon fishery. (The fish is listed as endangered or threatened in 19 of the 20 states that comprise its range). In fact, a great book (just in time for the holidays!) called “People of the Sturgeon” chronicles the efforts to save the fish in Wisconsin.

Saying “Hi” to Wisconsin-born sturgeon at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Now Wisconsin’s sturgeon stock is giving other states hope for saving the species. In fact, just last week, I visited the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga and was able to see (and touch) some Wisconsin-born sturgeon. Those fish were shipped to Tennessee to supply southern fish hatcheries with brood stock that will be released with the hopes that they’ll keep the ancient species around in the Tennessee River.