Walleye eggs collected in Bays de Noc

ESCANABA — It’s simple math really: Zero eggs equals zero fish for future stocking programs.

So, the spring walleye and steelhead egg collections by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are critical components of the strategy for maintaining world-class fishing opportunities in the Great Lakes State.

Walleye fishing (and the fish fries that follow) are a quintessential part of Midwest culture. Whereas this species does reproduce naturally in some large rivers and northern Michigan lakes, many of the popular walleye fisheries in the state are dependent on stocking. The DNR uses two donor populations to supply the eggs for statewide stocking programs.

In Delta County, although a mild winter in the Upper Peninsula with low snowfall and mild temperatures led to earlier than normal ice-off conditions on Little Bay de Noc, egg take efforts were completed on April 10, 12 and 14, which were close to the long-term average dates over the past 30 years.

Staff from the Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit collected ripe female and male walleye for the egg take with trap nets and electrofishing gear in the Whitefish River.

Staff from the Thompson State Fish Hatchery in neighboring Schoolcraft County came over to Little Bay de Noc on the scheduled egg-take days to process the fish.

In total, 120 pairs of walleye were spawned with approximately 13 million eggs collected. Once all walleye were spawned for the day, the fertilized eggs were transported back to the hatchery’s cool-water facility and placed in incubation jars to reside until hatching.

Eggs are being collected from walleye from Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.

One unique part of the spring operations on Little Bay de Noc is the continuation of a long-term adult walleye tagging project led by research staff from the Marquette Fisheries Research Station during the annual egg take.

Walleye used for the tagging project are either fish returned to the bay after being used for egg-take operations or fish that were not used and deemed “extra” fish. For over 30 years, several hundred adult walleye have been jaw-tagged – with small circular bands that attach around part of the jaw – and then released.

Each tag has a unique number stamped on it. When anglers catch and report a tagged fish, this gives researchers information on the movements and habits of individual walleye in the northern Green Bay area of Lake Michigan.

The walleye collected on the Muskegon River and Bay de Noc this spring will remain inside the hatcheries until they reach the fry stage. At that point, they will be moved into rearing ponds located throughout the state to grow to size suitable for stocking. Many of these fish will be stocked in June when they are around 1-2 inches in length, whereas walleyes from a few ponds will be held until October and stocked at around 6 inches long.


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