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DNR Announces Contactless Fish Registration For Sturgeon Spearing Season

Spearers Will Remain In Their Vehicles While Biologists Log Their Fish

Sturgeon spearing
In this Feb. 14, 2015 photo, wind gusts of up to 45 miles per hour whip around ice shanties set up for sturgeon spearing on Lake Poygan in Wisconsin. Carrie Antlfinger/AP Photo

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has sold more than 12,000 licenses for the upcoming sturgeon spearing season on Lake Winnebago and nearby lakes, officials announced Wednesday.

They say that number is on par with the past five years. But there are changes coming to the 2021 spearing season.

“Wisconsin continues to see record-setting numbers of positive COVID-19 cases. Therefore, it was critical when we took into consideration our options for in-person registration of sturgeon, to protect the health and safety of Wisconsin residents and DNR staff,” said DNR sturgeon biologist Ryan Koenigs.

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That’s why the DNR is implementing a contactless sturgeon registration system this year.

Registration stations, where spearers bring their fish to be logged by the DNR, will be moved to low-traffic areas such as parking lots and city parks, Koenigs said. Spearers will be asked to place their fish in an accessible spot in their vehicle. They will remain in the vehicle while DNR biologists remove the fish and collect the information they need before returning it.

“To be able to manage this fishery, particularly with the sex-specific harvest caps, we need to be able to collect biological data from each individual fish, and we need to be able to do that safely,” Koenigs said.

Spearers will still be required to register their fish by 2 p.m. the day it’s harvested. Koenigs doesn’t expect the process will take any longer this year despite the changes, he said.

Registration stations are typically held at local businesses near Lake Winnebago and the upper lakes — lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan. In some cases, this year’s stations are located within a mile of where they’re normally held, Koenigs said.

“We are committed to returning registration stations to local businesses when it’s safe to do so,” he said. “This change in process this year is not a long-range plan.”

According to the DNR, the season is open to out-of-state participants, but most spearers live within 60 miles of Lake Winnebago. DNR officials are asking spearers to take precautions, not just at registration stations, but when interacting with anyone from outside their household.

“This is a very social event, and as we go through outreach efforts, we will be reminding the spearers out there to be safe themselves,” said DNR Fisheries Management Bureau Director Justine Hasz.

But for the most part, sturgeon spearing season will proceed as normal.

It’s set to begin Saturday, Feb. 13 and last no more than 16 days. This year, the DNR has capped the harvest at 430 juvenile females, 950 adult females and 1,200 males, Koenigs said.

It’s too early to predict water clarity and ice thickness for this season, Koenigs said. Both factors can play an important role in whether spearers are successful. According to the Fond du Lac Reporter, 811 sturgeon were harvested during the 2020 spearing season, when conditions were poor.