Sturgeon elevator tour at Menominee Dam

Sturgeon elevator system inside the Menominee Dam, May 22, 2018 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

MENOMINEE, Mich. (WLUK) -- A restoration project along the Wisconsin-Michigan border is giving a prehistoric fish a lift.

For almost a century, a dam blocked the sturgeon's pathway to spawning grounds upstream.

But a new elevator system is giving them a way around.

And on Tuesday, a tour gave the public a chance to see the progress first-hand.

With the press of the button, Michigan DNR fisheries biologist Jennifer Johnson watched the 10-by-15-foot hopper make its four-minute journey to the top of the vertical shaft inside the Menominee Dam.

"Basically a big fish elevator right? A door opens up once we get to the second floor, then they will spill out into a holding tank," said Darren Kramer, Michigan DNR Fisheries Supervisor.

The water flows into a round tub where captured fish are sorted. Sturgeon are diverted to holding tanks nearby.

"We're taking mature adult males and females. Catching lake sturgeon at Menominee Dam and transferring the suitable ones around the Menominee and Park Mill Dams, so they have access to additional spawning and rearing habitat in the upper river, up to the Grand Rapids Dam," said Kramer.

The elevator system opened in the spring of 2015. The goal is to transfer 90 sturgeon a year. So far this season 24 fish have been moved around the two dams.

"Historically, the Menominee River probably provided the lion's share of lake sturgeon for Lake Michigan. The population in Lake Michigan at one time was in and around a couple million fish. Now, it's just several thousand," he said.

Project leaders opened the system to the public on Tuesday.

"I'm impressed. I'm a mechanical person anyway. So I was checking out how they built it, how they run it, and how it's all set up to allow the fish to come in," said Dennis Schneider, Marinette.

"This way it gives them the opportunity to get up, further up in the river, where they can't get up there. They're like prehistoric fish, somebody's got to take care of them," said David Peterson, Menominee, Michigan.

The fish elevator cost about $12 million to build.

A combination of federal, state and, private money paid for the project.

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