Herman Prepares For 89th Birthday Celebration

Photo: Ford, Brad

Who doesn’t like a big fish story? This one is about a sturgeon in a pond at Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Herman the Sturgeon is kind of a big deal in Oregon; a white sturgeon with a colorful history who happens to be celebrating a birthday on Saturday, June 24. You are invited to join the celebration.

Herman’s story includes trips between Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s (ODFW) Roaring River Fish Hatchery near Scio and the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem. Beginning in the 1930’s and up until the 1980’s, one Herman (or another) was a mainstay at the Oregon State Fair’s Animal Village exhibit. Life on the road is hard so ODFW stopped transporting Herman and started planning for a permanent exhibit space. Herman’s life thereafter wasn’t without danger or excitement; the rumors about fishnappings, physical assaults, a music video? It’s all true.

To keep Herman safe and give him a better environment, an effort was begun to build him suitable habitat at Bonneville Fish Hatchery in the Columbia River Gorge. In partnership with ODFW, the Oregon Wildlife Foundation (OWF) launched a capital campaign and raised the funding needed, more than $350,000, to construct the Sturgeon Viewing and Interpretive Center at Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Dedicated on Sept. 27, 1998, the Center is one of Oregon’s top visitor attractions.

“A sturgeon named “Herman” has been associated with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife since the 1930s,” said OWF Executive Director Tim Greseth. “Herman represents perseverance in the face of adversity, an admirable quality no matter what species you are.”

OWF also owns and operates Spruce Gifts & Provisions stores in downtown Hood River and at Bonneville Fish Hatchery. The store at Bonneville features coffee drinks, treats, local and regional gift items and, of course, Herman the Sturgeon memorabilia. Proceeds from the sale of merchandise at Spruce Gifts & Provisions stores help support fish and wildlife conservation in Oregon.

The Foundation cordially invites members of the public to join them in celebration of Herman’s birthday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., on June 24. This is an all-ages event to celebrate the passing of another year in Herman’s long and storied life. Come out and wish him a happy birthday, learn about sturgeon conservation from ODFW staff, have a cupcake, take an “ussie” with a legendary fish, and maybe pick up a souvenir of your visit to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery.

Sturgeon Conservation

Herman the Sturgeon is approximately 10 feet long, weighs over 500 pounds, and is over 80 years old. There are records of larger and older white sturgeon in the Columbia River and elsewhere in Oregon but Herman is an excellent example of this large and long-lived species. Worldwide, there are 23 species of sturgeon with seven found in North America. Only two, white and green sturgeon, are found along the West Coast and in Oregon. Both are in the Oregon Conservation Strategy, the State of Oregon’s overarching strategy for conserving our fish and wildlife.  

Herman comes from a long line of prehistoric bottom-feeders. A way of life that has worked for sturgeon, which evolved during the Jurassic Period of the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Sturgeon have changed very little since then. What has changed are the availability of good sturgeon habitat and their food supply.

Andrea Carpenter, ODFW’s Sturgeon and Zone 6 Creel Project Leader, stated that “historically, white sturgeon would migrate to the ocean or estuaries, habitat that’s rich with nutrients. The dams on the Columbia River have cut off access to those nutrient-rich areas. White sturgeon also require specific conditions for their eggs to be spread into the river and need access to clean, fresh water,” said Carpenter. “There are times when environmental conditions like water temperature line up with water levels and discharge from dams, in ways that are favorable for spawning,” she continued. “However, our system of dams has slowed the flow of the river, negatively influencing water temperature. Sturgeon like cooler water, but our system of reservoirs has caused the Columbia River to become warmer.”

White sturgeon are also subject to increased predation by marine mammals like sea lions. With fewer salmon, “there is less food available to sea lions, so they turn to other food sources like sturgeon," said Carpenter. 

Bonneville Hatchery and Sturgeon Viewing and Interpretive Center

The Sturgeon Viewing and Interpretive Center is located at Bonneville Fish Hatchery, 70543 NE Herman Loop, in Cascade Locks. From I-84, take Exit 40 to Bonneville Dam/Fish Hatchery. Follow the signs to the hatchery and park in the parking lot. For more information on the Sturgeon Viewing and Interpretive Center visit www.myodfw.com/bonneville-hatchery-visitors-guide.

Oregon Wildlife Foundation

Oregon Wildlife Foundation is an apolitical operating charitable foundation dedicated to increasing private and public funding support for wildlife conservation projects in Oregon. Since 1981, OWF has directed tens of millions of dollars in private and public support to a broad range of projects throughout Oregon. For more information visit www.myowf.org.

Source: Oregon Wildlife Foundation

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