Msg 1 Posted: 08:32 AM 11/06/06 (CST)
A lot of people complain that I never post anything worth while on this forum... Thought I would prove you all wrong. Found this on the WEB...|
Reintroducing the sturgeon
For the past six years, the Ojibwe have made it their mission to boost the fish's numbers
BY KEVIN SCHNEPF
Forum of Fargo
WHITE EARTH, Minn. The wind howled on the banks of White Earth Lake, bringing in the region's first taste of winter, and Joe Bush was praying for nearly 13,000 sturgeon.
The spiritual leader of the White Earth Indian Reservation, Bush was asking for the blessing of the tiny sturgeon fingerlings about to be dumped into the 2,000-acre White Earth Lake. He blew smoke from his pipe onto a sturgeon being held in the hands of Randy Zortman, White Earth fisheries manager.
The Ojibwe tribe of White Earth has been praying for the survival of sturgeon for the past six years, the length of time it has been working with other groups to reintroduce sturgeon to White Earth Lake and nearby Round Lake.
The sturgeon, a holdover species from prehistoric times that can grow to more than 100 pounds, was once plentiful in the lakes and tributaries of the Red River watershed. But unregulated commercial fishing in the late 1800s all but wiped out the population.
"The sturgeon is not just an economic and biological resource, it's also a cultural and spiritual relative of the Ojibwe," said Winona LaDuke, head of the White Earth Land Recovery Project that helped spearhead the sturgeon restoration project.
"It's very significant to see something like this coming back. It just kind of warms your heart," she said.
There were plenty of warm feelings during a chilly October day when 8,000 fingerling sturgeon were dumped into White Earth Lake and 5,000 more into Round Lake.
Participating in the ceremonies were Willy Wilson and Joe Hunter of Rainy River First Nations in Ontario, where White Earth officials purchase the sturgeon eggs. Also present was Scott Yess of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose department raises the sturgeon eggs into fingerlings at a national fish hatchery in Genoa, Wis.
Mike Swan, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources director at White Earth, told the crowd gathered at White Earth Lake that it would be a 20-year project.
"It takes the fish about 10 to 15 years to mature and be able to reproduce again," Swan said. "So it will be a long process of reintroducing these fish."
Ken Bregel, of nearby Waubun, watched the ceremonies. Last August, Bregel caught and released a 36-inch, 8-pound sturgeon in White Earth Lake. It was estimated to be 5 years old.
"If you catch that same fish next year, it will probably weigh 20 pounds," Swan said.
In 1926, a lake sturgeon weighing 176 pounds was caught in White Earth Lake. According to Swan, the story is that fishermen saw the sturgeon on a sandbar, jumped off their boat and wrestled it.
Sturgeon, one of the oldest species of fish in existence, can live to be 150 years old. They are bottom feeders, needing lakes that are deep, such as the 120-foot White Earth Lake and the 80-foot Round Lake.
With their projecting wedge-shaped snouts, they stir up the soft bottom. By means of their sensitive barbells, they detect shells, crustacean, insect larvae and crawfish. Having no teeth, they are unable to seize larger prey.
Sturgeon like to migrate. White Earth is working with the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to alter or remove dams along the waterways, so the sturgeon can swim upstream to spawn.
"With two dams recently removed, the sturgeon can get into the Red River and get back here," Yess said. "Where this batch ends up, it remains to be seen."
American Indian cultures were partially dependent on the availability of lake sturgeon. Indian villages were often located near water where sturgeon spawned.
Early European settlements hinged, in part, on commercial fishing for lake sturgeon, which were prized for their meat and eggs. The eggs were eaten as caviar.
Since the turn of the 20th century, lake sturgeon populations have declined because of the construction of dams, water quality problems and overfishing. Because they are rich in oil, sturgeon also were used to fuel boats on rivers.
"They would lay the sturgeon down like planks, or logs, and throw them in and burn them," LaDuke said. "By 1920, they were wiped out. On some level, it was a spiritual loss to the community."
Comparing the sturgeon's fate to that of the buffalo, LaDuke said their demise also meant the disappearance of age-old traditions of the White Earth Reservation, like annual harvest gatherings and celebratory feasts or mythological stories of ancestors living with the fish or turning into them.
"Sturgeon are part of our culture," LaDuke said.
"We are thinking ahead seven generations," Zortman said. "We're putting them back in here for our children and grandchildren."