Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com)
In Longfellow's famous poem, an Ojibwe hero named Hiawatha battles a Lake Superior sturgeon big enough to swallow a canoe.
The poem may have been only loosely based on real Anishinaabe legends but the lake's first people did truly depend on the fish.
"It was like the buffalo to the plains people. Sturgeon were such an important part of their diet." said Emily Wartman of Great Lakes Aquarium.
A European taste for caviar nearly wiped out the sturgeon in just thirty years.
In the last thirty years, though, the Minnesota DNR has taken steps to bring the fish back to Lake Superior and the Saint Louis River.
"We went up by the dam and their historic spawning ground and we improved the spawning habitat for sturgeon as well as walleye and smallmouth bass." said John Lindgren at the French River Hatchery.
Along with habitat restoration, 145,000 new sturgeons have been stocked in the lake and river.
Minnesota DNR's John Lindgren says the program is working.
"The fish we stocked survived and now they've begun to come back and we've actually documented natural reproduction." said Lindgren.
Northland sturgeon can live upwards of 200 years and weigh over 300 pounds.
"In 1922, there was a lake sturgeon that was caught in Lake Superior that was 310 pounds and almost eight feet long so they can get humongous." said Wartman at the Aquarium's sturgeon display.
Eight feet is big but not big enough to swallow a canoe.
It's said that Longfellow's poem mixed Finnish and Ojibwe legend together.
John Lindgren feels that multicultural mash up can help explain why fish stories are always huge no matter who tells them.
"Maybe that goes to show the Native Americans had a similar propensity to exaggerate fish stories as the white folks." said Lindgren.
Near Lake Superior for Nature Matters, Dave Anderson, KBJR 6 and Range 11.
Because of their rarity, sturgeon fishing is not allowed on Lake Superior or the Saint Louis River.
If you accidentally catch one, take a quick picture and turn it loose.
On other Minnesota lakes, a special license is needed and the limit is one sturgeon per year.