Sturgeon spearing a spectacle

Three Northland College students assist with sturgeon registration.
Three Northland College students assist with sturgeon registration.

The Wisconsin DNR registered 1,276 sturgeons at their eleven registration stations during the first weekend. That means a lot of work for the people working at those stations. The registration station at Critters in Winneconne got an assist from three college students from across the state line.

Steve Fajfer is a fish production supervisor in Wild Rose and oversees the Critters station. He glowingly talked about the three Northland College students who helped him on opening weekend.  "I've been calling them biologist in training all weekend because that's what they are.”

Sturgeon registration can draw a crowd of interested on-lookers. These three students were no bye-standers. They did some heavy lifting, among other tasks over on the weekend.

Erica Meulemans, a Kaukauna native, is majoring in chemistry and water sciences. She was excited to learn about the testing and tracking of the sturgeon but also just to see them up close. "It's not every day you can say I want to see a really old fish today. This is a onetime thing you can see this historic creature," Meulmans said.

Timothy Shorter, a freshman who’s majoring in writing, was so moved by the experience he said he’s thinking about changing his major after all the fun tasks he performed. "I've never done anything like it before,” Shorter said. “Yesterday I stuck mostly to the weighing and stuff. Just tying the rope and pulling it up on the pulley but today I'm getting into the cutting and the tagging and stuff like that."

For these college students who are helping the DNR register sturgeon. It may be a little sticky. It may be a little stinky but they tell me it's a lot of fun.

"It doesn't bother me,” Meulemans said. “I just really like getting down and dirty and just having a good time."

Shorter’s most memorable moment comes from listening to some of the spectators. "My favorite part is listening to the fishermen guess how much it's going to weigh," Shorter said.

For Kaitlyn Windschitl this weekend was a glimpse into what her future career will look like. She enjoys the fun of seeing inside the sturgeon. "My favorite part is seeing all the big fish and seeing their look when we cut into them and guts are just everywhere," Windschitl said.

The students go through training on the Friday before the season and work under the watchful eye of professionals like Steve Fajfer but in addition to gaining experience they're performing a service.

"If they weren't here it would cost the state a lot more money to man these stations and work these fish. So it's a real benefit to the state and the resource," Fajfer said.

Maybe one day in the not too distant future Windschitl will be the teacher instead of the student. "I've always kind of wanted to go into natural resources biology and coming here just confirms it for me. It's gross I'm covered in blood and guts but it's great and it's fun."