MILWAUKEE - The public can join in the fun at Sturgeon Fest at Lakeshore State Park in downtown Milwaukee on Sept. 30 and be part of restoring lake sturgeon to Lake Michigan.
The family-oriented event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and features the opportunity for participants to sponsor and hand release one of the young sturgeon into the Milwaukee Harbor.
The festival is free for all ages; a donation of $10 is appreciated for sponsoring a sturgeon. Pre-register to sponsor a fish; registration closes at 2 p.m. Sept. 29, but if there are still sturgeon left, people can register at the event.
"We encourage people to come to Sturgeon Fest and experience releasing a sturgeon," says Brad Eggold, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor for the Great Lakes. "We'll be stocking about 1,100 sturgeon into Lake Michigan, which would not be possible without the cooperation of the Riveredge Nature Center and its volunteers."
The fish were hatched from eggs collected by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on the Wolf River and have been tended to by Riveredge Nature Center volunteers at a streamside rearing facility. They are now ready for release, which sponsors will do after the opening ceremony, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to noon and features remarks from local dignitaries, a ceremonial Native American blessing and the first sturgeon release.
The festival continues all day with games and crafts for kids, a scavenger hunt, an Adventure Rock climbing wall, prairie tours, a live performance of "The Great Global Extravaganza" from the Milwaukee County Zoo, educational booths, local food trucks and more.
"Sturgeon Fest is a great day of free family fun, but what makes it really meaningful and unique is the opportunity for families to be a hands-on part of making a positive impact on our environment," says Jessica Jens, executive director of Riveredge Nature Center.
"When I watch my own son and daughter release sturgeon that could be swimming in the same lake as their great-grandchildren one day, I know they have a deeper sense of wonder and respect for the natural world around them."
Lake sturgeon, once plentiful in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan waters and their tributaries, became extirpated in many waters due to key factors including overharvest and pollution. While lake sturgeon populations in the Lake Winnebago system have recovered and now rank as the world's largest, DNR has given the species "watch" status and is committed to rehabilitating lake sturgeon in areas where it has been extirpated.
Starting in 2006, streamside rearing facilities have been used to produce sturgeon for Lake Michigan. The streamside rearing facility at Riveredge uses water piped from the Milwaukee River, which should help guide the fish back to the Milwaukee River in the years ahead, Eggold says.
Juvenile sturgeon assessments conducted by DNR each summer provide reason for optimism because these released fish are now showing up in DNR fish surveys.
"Since the streamside rearing trailer began operations in 2006, we've released nearly 15,000 sturgeon," he says. "As these fish reach maturity, the majority of them will likely to return to the waters in which they were raised."
For more information about Sturgeon Fest, visit the Sturgeon Fest website: http://sturgeonfest.org/. Lakeshore State Park is located off the shore of Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee.