Sturgeon Bay, Wis. (January 26, 2024) – Sturgeon will be the topic at Crossroads’ Fish Tales Lecture Series on Thursday, February 8, when Dr. Patrick Forsythe presents, “Elevating Optimism of the Menominee River Through Successful Up and Downstream Passage of Lake Sturgeon.”
Because Crossroads is located in the City of Sturgeon Bay and our Cove Estuary Preserve skirts the Bay of Sturgeon Bay, we get a lot of questions about how the name came to be and if these huge fish still live here.
According to Ann Jinkins and Maggie Weir in their book “Sturgeon Bay,” French explorer, Fr. Claude Allouez, who wintered with the Pottawatomie in 1676, was the first to write “La Portage des Eturgeons,” apparently referring to the plentiful sturgeon in the bay.
In the book, “Brief History of Door County,” (and it is brief, as it was written in 1881 and there was not a great deal of written history back then), Chas. I Martin wrote, “Sturgeon, the largest fish caught in this water, are dressed and generally cut into large strips, and smoked.”
Martin continued, “The sturgeon is a peculiar fish, looking something like a creek ‘sucker,’ has dark skin; is as destitute of scales as a man’s face; varies in length from two to nine feet—the average being about four or five feet—and there is not a bone in its body. What is called the back-bone is a large grizzle that can be easily cut with a knife.
“The sturgeon often grows to great weight, and it is a powerful fish in the water—its flesh is a beautiful bright yellowing tint, and if properly cooked, is grand eating beyond description.”
Later in his book, in describing how the name Otumba was changed to Sturgeon Bay, Martin wrote, “The name of that arm or bay over … Green Bay, now so well known as ‘Sturgeon Bay,’ originated among the Menominee Indians. They so named it because of its outline being about the shape of the finny tribe being so plentiful in these waters.”
So as of 1881, in Door County, sturgeon were plentiful and sought after by the 700 families living on the peninsula at that time. So what happened?
Liz Carey, in an article in the Daily Yonder, quoted our speaker, Dr. Forsythe as saying, “In recent decades, the sturgeon population was down to about 1 to 2% of its historic abundance.
“Some of the decline was due to overfishing,” he explained, “but most was due to a dam system. Built in the early 1900s, the five dams along the Menominee River were first put in to help logging operations along the river. As time passed, the dams were converted to hydro-electric dams to help fuel the area with electricity.”
Six years ago, during our inaugural Fish Tales Lecture Series, Rob Elliott, fish biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, presented the lecture, “All About Lake Sturgeon – Recovery Efforts in Green Bay and the Great Lakes.” In it, he described a fish elevator, a project on the Menominee River that could lift sturgeon above the first dam and transport them beyond the second dam.
The February 8 lecture title, “Elevating Optimism of the Menominee River,” is a play on words. Dr. Patrick Forsythe, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, will discuss the fish elevator project on the Menominee River and discuss genetic research on sturgeon reproduction and dispersal, and share his optimism that the sturgeon population in Lake Michigan might increase.
According to Mark Holey, the Fish Tale Lecture Series organizer, “The basic premise for lake sturgeon in the Menominee River is that the parents of a disadvantaged family needs an elevator to have a better chance to raise a family that includes adequate nursery care (habitat) for the babies” Join us in-person at Crossroads, 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay, or participate via ZOOM or Facebook Live by going to https://www.doorcountylibrary.org/event.html
The community is invited to our First Friday Campfire on Groundhog’s Day starting at 5:30 p.m. And on Saturday, in our weekly family program, Saturday Science, learners of all ages will learn about the “starry messengers” –COMETS by attending a family-friendly demonstration during which the Comet Chef will concoct a frigid comet model after showing a short video. Every family will receive a souvenir chunk of a “kitchen comet” to take home and enjoy (until it sublimates). This free program is for all ages and will be held indoors at the Collins Learning Center, Crossroads, 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.
Crossroads is joining with The Ridges Sanctuary and the Door County Land Trust to promote community science opportunities, among them a four-day event known as the Great Backyard Bird Count which takes place Friday, February 16 through Monday, February 19. For people who might be interested, these partners in conservation will offer a Webinar: How to Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count on Wednesday, February 7, at 3:30 p.m.
Register online with the Door County Land Trust to receive the Zoom Link.
Crossroads will offer our popular Ski-for-Free program when conditions allow. Check the website www.crossroadsatbigcreek.org.