Tribal hatcheries boost fish stocks
Inland lakes, rivers and Gichigami benefit
By Susan Erickson, Staff Writer
Odanah, Wis.—In 2011 tribal fish hatcheries in the northern Midwest stocked 43,006,077 walleye fry and 2,248,381 walleye fingerlings in inland lakes, rivers and Lake Superior. And in 2012, they are in the process of doing it over again.
Like the spring treaty fishing season, the collection of eggs for tribal hatcheries was drawn out this season. The unprecedented early ice out put many hatchery staff in motion in May, but their nets captured few walleye ready to spawn at the onset.
Collection of eggs is, of course, critical to the success of hatchery operations, so persistence over a period of weeks finally helped fill bell jars and incubators. "What normally took us several days to collect, took us several weeks this year," says Tim Wilson, Bad River fisheries biologist.
At Lac du Flambeau, Hatchery Manager Butch St. Germain reported egg collection significantly lower this spring. "We're down about 10 to 12 million eggs, probably because of the early ice-out. The fish were still hard and just not ready,"he comments. "Collection of musky eggs was also way down."
Eggs are milked from female fish before they are returned to the water. The eggs are fertilized and then carefully incubated until the fry hatch. It is a watchful procedure as any failure in the system can easily bring the whole process to a catastrophic end.
Thirteen tribes in the Midwest region maintain hatcheries, including seven of GLIFWC's eleven member bands.
While walleye remains the primary target species for many tribal hatcheries, other species are also reared, including yellow perch, muskellunge, brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout. Both Keweenaw Bay and Red Cliff produce coaster brook trout in a long-term effort to restore the species in Lake Superior tributary rivers, and Keweenaw Bay's hatchery still turns out lake trout in addition to other species.
2012 stocking efforts
At this date, many of the tribal hatcheries have released fish, but have also retained some for extended growth, so the figures below do not always include the total for the 2012 year stocking effort.
The Lac Courte Oreilles hatchery stocked 104,000 fingerling walleye into seven Sawyer County waterbodies this summer, but also continued to rear fingerlings for a fall stocking of 6 to 8-inch walleyes. According to Paul Christel, LCO fisheries biologist, on average the tribe stocks about 18,615 extended growth walleyes annually, and it looks like the hatchery will either maintain or exceed the average this season.
Christel says they generally stock the extended growth walleye in waters with poor natural reproduction, apparently due to predation from and competition with largemouth bass, a growing problem in walleye lakes. "One such area would be the Chippewa Flowage," he says. "The number of lakes falling into this category impacted by largemouth bass continues to grow. We have seen little evidence of survival of small fingerlings stocked in such waters, making the stocking of extended growth walleye necessary."
Christel notes that production of extended growth fish is expensive. "The farther the 'scales tip' towards largemouth bass domination in these waters, the more expensive attempts to restore balance become…and the more questionable the success of such efforts become," he says.
By mid-June, the Bad River hatchery successfully seined thousands of walleye fingerlings from its four huge rearing ponds to once again stock the Kakagon and Bad Rivers. This year the tribe stocked 391,000 walleye fingerlings in June and 2.5 million fry earlier this spring. In addition, 58,800 yellow perch fingerlings were released in July.
The Red Cliff hatchery stocked 6,000 two-year old coaster brook trout and 2,000 one-year old coasters in May and June, while also carrying 161,435 walleye fry in the hatchery for later release.
For its part, the Sokaogon/Mole Lake hatchery stocked 3.1 million walleye fry into Lake Metonga and 400,000 walleye fry into Post Lake this summer.
By mid July the Lac du Flambeau hatchery released 13,350,000 walleye fry into 23 lakes and 200,142 walleye fingerlings into 11 lakes; however, more were retained in the hatchery for extended growth prior to release.
The Keweenaw Bay (KB) hatchery in Michigan reared about 42,000 Jumbo River strain brook trout yearlings. In addition about 30,000 coaster brook trout were reared and stocked by the US Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of Keweenaw Bay Tribe to date.
KB's hatchery also reared and stocked two strains of lake trout, planting about 36,000 fry into Keweenaw Bay. This was complemented by the stocking of 700 lake trout brood stock from the Iron River National Fish Hatchery on behalf of Keweenaw Bay. Gene Mensch, KB fish and wildlife biologist, notes that KB's lake trout rearing program is temporarily on hold until a new recirculation system is completed in one of the hatchery's coldwater hatchery operations.
Keweenaw Bay also stocked 850,000 walleye fry and 9,599 walleye fingerlings this year. Efforts still pending at KB include coaster brook trout and extended growth walleye plants with numbers yet to be determined.
The St. Croix hatchery stocked walleye fingerlings into the following lakes in 2012: Wapogasset, Polk County 23,943; Balsam, Polk Co. 21,590; Beaver Dam, Barron Co. 22,182; and Bear Lake, Barron Co. 23,691—for a total of 91,406.