Sturgeon Fest

Sunday, September 29, 2024

11:00 am – 3:00 pm

In Milwaukee’s Harbor District – 600 E. Greenfield Ave.


When you sponsor a sturgeon online, the system reserves a fish for you to release at Sturgeon Fest during the 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm release window. Your sponsorship also serves as a donation to support this important work! There may be additional fish available to sponsor on the day of Sturgeon Fest, but the best way to ensure you get the chance to release a fish is by sponsoring ahead of time.

There’s no better feeling than helping restore a keystone species to its native home in Lake Michigan.

Honoring the sturgeon’s cultural significance

The lake sturgeon carries cultural significance to the indigenous people of our region, making the impact of the sturgeon’s near-total loss in the Milwaukee River not only an ecological tragedy, but something that resonates culturally and emotionally. Now that the sturgeon are returning thanks to sustained conservation efforts, including this 25-year project supported by Riveredge and the Wisconsin DNR, it is a moment to reflect and celebrate. At Sturgeon Fest, around 11:45 am at the sturgeon release site, we will witness a traditional blessing to help us honor the sturgeon’s role in our world and the connectedness between all life. Once the first sturgeon is released by dignitaries, the sturgeon release begins!

STuRGEON RELEASE 12pm – 2pm!

When you get to Sturgeon Fest, check in to get your wristband! There will be two different check-in lines. If you pre-sponsored online (highly recommended), you’ll be able to check in faster, whereas people waiting to sponsor available fish on the day-of will be in a slower line.

Once you have your wristband, get in line to receive your baby lake sturgeon! All fish must be released by 2:00pm sharp. We appreciate your understanding – these rules are put in place for the health of the fish and to ensure they thrive.

Then… the big moment! You’ll get your fish in a bucket. Release them into the lake by hand or send them down the fun sturgeon slide. Don’t forget to pick up your certificate at the end–you’ll need this to register your fish and get notified if they are spotted again in the future on annual surveys or scans!

STAY AND PLAY, and check out Harbor fest!

Sturgeon Fest keeps the fun rolling from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Besides releasing a sturgeon, you can also participate in family-friendly games, see live animals at our education stations, try arts and crafts, and learn more about Riveredge Nature Center. Our sister festival, Harbor Fest, also happens at the same site and time. Stroll down Greenfield Avenue to check out all kinds of food trucks, beverages, kid activities, play areas, live music, dance performances, diverse vendors, and hands-on presentations at the STEM Stage inside the School of Freshwater Sciences. This vibrant celebration of Milwaukee’s Harbor District is FREE to the public.


At Sturgeon Fest, after you release your sturgeon, you’ll be given a special certificate like the one in this photo. Make sure to come back to this website and register your sturgeon! Each one of the fish released by Riveredge has a PIT tag inside of them, much like the microchip that a pet cat or dog would have. This allows the fish to be scanned throughout its lifetime, whether it is recaptured and released during a DNR survey, or it happens to swim by one of the PIT tag sensors in the Milwaukee River. When we receive word that a fish has been spotted returning to the river, we will notify you! Each year, we are updated on new fish from past years that have been detected. And since sturgeon can live over 100 years, you never know when that might happen.

Sturgeon Conservation at Riveredge Nature Center

Riveredge Nature Center powers the Milwaukee River Lake Sturgeon Rehabilitation Program in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. This 25-year project began in 2006, and utilizes a Streamside Rearing Facility to raise the fish on-site at Riveredge. The lake sturgeon were almost fully extirpated, or regionally extinct, from the Milwaukee River, where historic population levels fell to less than 1% due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and poaching. Thanks to this program and others like it, we are beginning to see encouraging signs that lake sturgeon can be restored to their native home.

How it works

The WDNR collects eggs and milt from spawning fish each spring on the Wolf River, which has a healthy lake sturgeon population. Those eggs are brought to the Streamside Rearing Facility at Riveredge Nature Center, where they are hatched in water from the Milwaukee River. From their first moment of life, the fish imprint on this river water, learning that the Milwaukee River is their birthplace. Throughout the spring, summer, and early fall, a dedicated team of volunteers rears the fish, with the support of Riveredge staff and DNR partners. Daily feeding, cleaning, pump maintenance, and data tracking all contribute to the successful growth of the fish. In late September or early October, the fish are tagged and transported to Sturgeon Fest, where they are released into Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Milwaukee River. The DNR continues to track the fish through surveys, collecting information on where and how many fish are returning as they mature.

Why are lake sturgeon so special?

In addition to being a species of cultural significance for the region’s indigenous people, sturgeon are an incredible marvel of the natural world. They are the largest fish species in the Great Lakes, topping out at an astonishing 7-foot length and 250 pound weight. Their long life span means a sturgeon could live to see an entire century! The sturgeon’s ancient physiology also makes them notable: they have an armor of scutes rather than scales, and look almost shark-like. In fact, their anatomy has changed very little since the time of the dinosaurs. Sturgeon are also important to the food chain, predating on benthic organisms at the bottom of the lake or river bed.


Caring for local waterways is a great thing to do to support lake sturgeon and all native fish species. There are many things you can do at home to reduce stormwater runoff and fight pollution, including reusing water with a rain barrel, creating rain garden areas with native plants to buffer the flow of runoff into local bodies of water, cleaning up all waste from canine friends, reducing use of road salt in the winter, and keeping storm drains clear of organic debris and trash. Education is another way to show your support for lake sturgeon: help spread the word to your family and friends about this amazing fish that calls Lake Michigan home.

If you want to get hands-on, consider joining our sturgeon volunteer team or the volunteer staff for the Sturgeon Fest event! To learn about volunteering, please click below.

Thank you to all our STURGEON FEST sponsors


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