In 1975 Island fisherman Charlie Martin snagged a 6' fish. He
was supposed to set it free, but it was such an unusual catch
that instead he made two trips to Ed Wojan's bait shop (now the
Emerald Isle Gallery.) The first time he bought the largest hook
they had. He reappeared an hour later, saying Look what
I caught off the dock! It was in the back of his pick-up,
its chest heaving as it fruitlessly gasped for air.
People passing by stopped for a look at the primitive beast,
which seemed oblivious to all the attention. Because it was so
rare, Ed wound up paying $50 for it and then racing to Lake Geneserath,
where he not only set it free but spent an hour coaxing it back
to life. Local lore had it that one of these behemoths had been
put there before, and another in Barney's. But they had not been
hooked, or seen, since. None of the dozen or so people who saw
this one as it was transferred to Ed's truck had ever seen one.
This was not always the case. When white men first began trading
with the Native Americans, they were offered these 200,000,000-year-old
evolutionary throwbacks, which our first inhabitants had long
speared, frequently through holes in the ice. In the hayday of
commercial fishing, when they were estimated to be eleven million
strong in Lake Michigan alone, sturgeon were always turning up
in the pound nets. Considered a net-tearing threat, they were
hauled onto shore, stacked up like cordwood, left to dry, and
then set on firetheir oil ensured a blaze. Despite their
abundance, there was essentially no marketalthough they
were used in places for the manufacture of eisenglass.
Today they are close to extinction, thanks to abuse, pollution,
and the deprivation of their former spawning areas. But now the
DNR plans to start a campaign designed to lead to their return.
With human intervention we could have terrific sturgeon
runs in 10 to 12 years, said University of Georgia biologist
Paul Vescal recently. DNR resource manager Gary Whelan is pushing
a plan to collect eggs and sperm, fertilize them in a lab, and
raise the hatchlings in pens. But first he wants genetic testing,
to make sure there's enough diversity left. We don't want
to make a really bad mistake, Whelan added. Inbreeding
could have a catastrophic effect on the population.
With any luck, our children might once again look over the side
of their boat and see fish that swam here when dinosaurs patrolled
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