Sturgeon return to Menominee Indian Reservation during ceremony

Sturgeon returned to Keshena, April 11, 2017 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

KESHENA, Wis. (WLUK) -- Dozens of giant fish are back in their historic spawning grounds.

It's part of a celebration of sturgeon on the Menominee Indian Reservation.

Net by net, 15 sturgeon were returned to the waters of Chikenay Creek Tuesday afternoon.

"Historically, this is one of the areas that they originally spawned in. There's talk about when the water is high, the fish can actually hear the heartbeat of the Falls," said Craig Corn, Menominee Tribal Vice-Chairman.

Buddy Wallace wanted his 4-year-old grandson to see it.

"What do you think of the fish? They're, they're, they're, they're, big," said Nohl Tourtillott, Bonduel.

The Department of Natural Resources delivered 59 fish netted below the Shawano Dam. Forty-four of those sturgeon were released into the Wolf River, just below Keshena Falls.

"There's a memorandum of understanding between the Wisconsin DNR and the Menominee Tribe to meet that requirement of a minimum of 100 fish per year," said Ryan Koenigs, DNR Sturgeon Biologist.

This is the sixth year of the ten-year agreement.

"Each of the first five years, following release, we've had fish spawning below Keshena Falls. Then the one year we did some larval sampling. In 2013, we captured larval lake sturgeon within an hour of sampling, indicating that there is natural reproduction taking place here as well," said Koenigs.

Koenigs says most of the fish likely swim back to the Lake Winnebago system after spawning, but for many tribal members, seeing live sturgeon on tribal land brings history to life.

"Very proud. Very proud. Proud of the Menominee people for revitalizing their ceremony, that went back for centuries," said David Grignon, Menominee Historic Preservation Department.

"It's in our DNA, it's in our history, and our culture. To see the kids, to see our people come together for such a special occurrence, it's touching, very touching," said Corn.

The remaining 15 fish will be part of a Pow-Wow and celebration this Saturday.

Tribal members will smoke the sturgeon and serve the fish at the Sturgeon Feast at the Menominee High School.

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