DNR: After 100 years lake sturgeon could finally return to Milwaukee River

NEWBURG (WITI) -- Because of overfishing, pollution and dams, it's been more than a hundred years since sturgeon have been found in the Milwaukee River. But now, the DNR has reached a major milestone in their efforts to repopulate the river. The fish could be back in a matter of months.

They're as big as tadpoles now, but the sturgeon at Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg will grow into 7-foot long, 200 lb. fish.

"They will stay here until they are fingerling size," said Riveredge Nature Center's program manager, Mary Holleback.

Volunteers are raising the sturgeon as part of the Lake Sturgeon Reintroduction Project.

Each one of the tanks at Riveredge Nature Center carries about 2,000 sturgeon, but not all of them survive. They end up releasing about a thousand of them.

"We have released about 10,000 fish over the 10 years," said Holleback.

It's how the DNR plans to reintroduce sturgeon into the Milwaukee River.

Since 2006, sturgeon eggs are brought in from the Wolf River each year. The fish are raised in tanks full of Milwaukee River water, and a few months later they are released into Lake Michigan near the Summerfest grounds. The key, is this allows the sturgeon to "imprint" on Milwaukee River Water.

"So that when they are mature, they come back to the Milwaukee river to spawn," said Holleback.

The spring of 2016 could be the first time we see sturgeon back in the Milwaukee River. The very first sturgeon raised in Newburg will be 10 years old, mature enough to return to the waters they were born in, and reproduce.

"It's fantastic thinking that sturgeon have not been in this river for over 120 years, and that we could be bringing some back. And how that it might change the ecosystem back to where it was 200 years ago, is amazing," said volunteer Pat Fairchild.

The DNR tags the sturgeon a week before they are released with technology similar to a micro chip. It includes a bar code, allowing them to identify and trace the fish.

This September's Sturgeon Fest, is the next release date for the fish into Lake Michigan.