Herman the Sturgeon: A Fishy Tale

Herman the Sturgeon at Bonneville Fish Hatchery

Herman the Sturgeon | fletcherjcm/Flickr

Road Journals Blog—Herman the Sturgeon, the main attraction at Oregon’s Bonneville Fish Hatchery, has a sweet life. He shares a deep, cool pool with other sturgeon and a few obese rainbow trout. All he has to do it swim around, eat, and watch people through the glass at the underwater viewing spot.

Other Hermans haven’t been so lucky. Since the 1930s, several sturgeon named Herman have lived at either Bonneville or the Roaring River Hatchery. One of the early Hermans used to take regular trips to the state fair, excursions that he probably didn’t enjoy. Hatchery workers would simply wrap him in a wet blanket and carry him to the back of a truck. (Sturgeons regularly top 10 feet in length.) Sometimes he was back there for hours, no doubt wondering in his sturgeon fashion what happened to the water.

But that’s not the worst of it. According to a report from the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation, “some Hermans have been mutilated by humans with knives and other sharp objects.” How does that happen? (The foundation is short on details.) Who looks at a 10-foot-long, Jurassic-style bottom feeder and decide that it’s time to knock him down a few pegs? Do some people really carry sturgeon vendettas?

There is also an enduring Herman mystery: Who fish-napped Herman I? In the 1980s, one of the original traveling Hermans disappeared for good from the Roaring River Hatchery in the dark of the night. (Yep, he’d been around since the beginning; Sturgeon can live for more than 100 years. The current Herman is thought to be in his 70s.) He probably just assumed he was headed for another state fair, but likely ended up in someone’s freezer. No one was ever charged with the crime.

The current Herman arrived at the Bonneville Hatchery in 1998 after being caught by a fisherman on the Columbia River. While that was probably an unsettling moment for the fish, compared to some he doesn’t have much to complain about.

What are your favorite places to see fish? Hatcheries? Aquariums? Science museums?

Chris Woolston wrote a feature about Oregon's Bonneville Hatchery in the November/December 2011 issue of Via.

This blog post was first published in November 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.