State of Sturgeon Spearing


State of Sturgeon Spearing
What: Community Information Meeting on Future of Sturgeon Spearing
When: Monday January 22, 2024 ⋅ 7 PM – 8 PM Central
Where: Stockbridge High School Gym, 110 School St, Stockbridge, WI 53088
Why: This event will give the public the chance to hear more about the potential
listing of the lake sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act and the potential
effects on WI sturgeon management and the annual spearing season. Federal and
State officials will give an update on efforts already underway to prevent this
listing and what the next steps are in the process.
Additionally, representatives from Sturgeon for Tomorrow and local fishing clubs
around the Winnebago system will be able to talk about the roles they have played
in the WI conservation success story of lake sturgeon management and the
negative impacts an ESA listing would have on them and their communities.
Finally, members of the public will get a chance to ask questions about the
potential listing, its effects, or efforts underway.
Who:
 Rep. Gallagher staff
 Rep. Grothman? and staff
 Sen. Johnson and staff?
 Sen. Baldwin and staff?
 Rep. Bodden
 State Legislators
 Sturgeon For Tomorrow Representatives
 Local Fishing Clubs Members
 Public

 


 

December 6, 2023
The Honorable Martha Williams
Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 C St, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Director Williams,
As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) continues to conduct a species status assessment (SSA) of
the lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), we write to highlight the conservation success story of
Wisconsin’s lake sturgeon management.1 Nowhere in the world will you find such a unique cultural
connection and staunch dedication to the preservation of sturgeon population levels than in Wisconsin. In
fact, due to such careful management, populations in the state thrive and allow for a sustainable spear
harvest season on the Winnebago System every winter. 2 We are concerned that a potential listing of the
species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could curtail this successful, science-based management
model as well as threaten a cherished and unique Wisconsin tradition.
The importance of this prehistoric fish in Wisconsin dates back hundreds of years and is rooted in the
Menominee Tribe’s strong cultural ties to the lake sturgeon.3 Not only is the sturgeon part of the
Menominee’s creation story but they relied on the fish for survival. In order to replenish their food
supplies after harsh Wisconsin winters, they would use spears to harvest large quantities of the fish as
they returned upriver every spring. The return of the sturgeon would be celebrated with a ceremonial feast
and celebration that continues to this day.
The lake sturgeon currently holds a special place in the cultural fabric of Wisconsinites, especially for the
communities that are located on Lake Winnebago and the Winnebago System, which is home to one of
North America’s largest lake sturgeon populations. 4 Every year starting on the second Saturday in
February, thousands of fishermen and women flock to shantytowns on the ice for the sturgeon spearing
season. This is a truly unique experience as the Winnebago System is one of two locations in the U.S.
where lake sturgeon can be harvested using a spear. 5
The spearing season is an integral part of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR)
population management plan and is meticulously managed through close collaboration with conservation
groups, fishing clubs, and spearers. Mandatory DNR-operated registration stations are established to
collect detailed data on the length, weight, sex, and tag status of each harvested fish and ensures strict
1 “Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) Species Status Assessment Draft Report.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
http://www.fws.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Lake%20sturgeon%20peer%20review%20plan%20May
%202023.pdf
2 “2022 Lake Sturgeon Stock Assessment Report The Winnebago System.” Wisconsin DNR.
https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/sites/default/files/topic/Fishing/WinnSysSturgeonStockAssessementReport2022.pdf.
3 Vaisvilas, Frank, “Sturgeon revered by Menominee people, who inspired Wisconsin’s sturgeon spearing season.”
Green Bay Press-Gazette, February 10, 2021.
https://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/story/news/2021/02/10/wisconsin-sturgeon-spearing-season-inspired-
menominee-practice/4366171001/
4“Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing.” Wisconsin DNR.
https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/fishing/sturgeon/WinnSysSturgeonSpear.
5 Ibid.
seasonal harvest caps are followed. This data, alongside the detailed spawning reports conducted by the
DNR with community collaboration across the state, allow the DNR to maintain an accurate spawn rate
account of population levels needed to ensure the health and sustainability of the species.6 Furthermore,
the fees collected by the DNR for spearing licenses are used specifically to conduct the DNR’s sturgeon
management and advance their conservation efforts.
The spearing season has grown into one of the most unique cultural events filled with strong traditions
and strong community ties. Although the harvesting of a sturgeon, which can grow to over six feet in
length and weigh over 200 pounds, will lead to stories that will be shared countless times long into the
future, the true importance of the spearing season lies in the time spent with family, friends, and
neighbors. It is not unusual for members of the community that do not participate in spearing to join in
the celebration by spending their weekend at a registration station. It is exactly these traditions that show
the commitment and dedication of Wisconsinites to ensuring the sturgeon population continues to thrive
long into the future.
Finally, spearing is crucial to the livelihoods of local communities and small businesses near the
Winnebago System who rely on the annual season. The two-week season alone is responsible for an
estimated $3.5 million in economic impact and sturgeon conservation is a major part in the over $200
million impact that fishing brings to the Winnebago System.7
As the Service continues the SSA and ultimately makes an ESA determination for lake sturgeon, we
request you to take into strong consideration the conservation success story of the species in Wisconsin.
Instead of imposing a nationwide, one-size-fits-all listing that could curtail the state’s management plan
and threaten a long-cherished tradition, we ask that Wisconsin lake sturgeon be exempt from any potential
ESA listing. Furthermore, we encourage the Service to engage with the Wisconsin DNR, local
communities, and other relevant stakeholders to help expand this model to other states and ensure the
continued existence of lake sturgeon for generations to come.
Sincerely,
Mike Gallagher
Member of Congress
Ron Johnson
United States Senator
Tammy Baldwin
United States Senator
6 Ibid.
7 “Sturgeon Season Pumps Millions Into Local Economy.” KFIZ. February 13, 2015. https://kfiz.com/sturgeon-
season-pumps-millions-into-local-economy/
Glenn Grothman
Member of Congress
Tom Tiffany
Member of Congress
Scott Fitzgerald
Member of Congress
Derrick Van Orden
Member of Congress
Bryan Steil
Member of Congress