Walker Lake Fish Hatchery starting to take walleye eggsWADENA, Minn. — The Department of Natural Resources’ Walker Lake Fish Hatchery commenced operations Thursday morning for the 2012 egg-taking season.
By: Brian Hansel, The Dickinson Press
WADENA, Minn. — The Department of Natural Resources’ Walker Lake Fish Hatchery commenced operations Thursday morning for the 2012 egg-taking season.
Walker Lake is located on the northwest side of Otter Tail Lake, 29 miles from Wadena, Minn. DNR fisheries personnel from Fergus Falls operate the hatchery.
Fish spawning up the Dead River from Walker and Otter Tail Lake are caught in a fish trap. The walleyes are then placed in pens. The female walleyes are milked of their eggs when they are ripe. The eggs are mixed with the sperm of male walleye in a tub and are coated with fine clay that prevents clumping. The mixture is then placed in two-quart battery jars in the hatchery building. The stripping process takes an average of 10 days to two weeks. The hatching process takes about three weeks. Water flows through the battery jars and as the walleye hatch from the egg stage into the fry stage they swim out of the jars and into a holding tank. Some of harvest is placed directly into local lakes in the fry stage. Other fry are placed in rearing ponds and harvested as fingerlings in the fall, then re-stocked in area lakes.
Hatcheries are a hedge against the fickleness of nature and gives the DNR a hand in game. Hatcheries ensure a better survival rate than nature and give the DNR a chance to stock lakes that lack good walleye numbers.
“In our hatchery, 70 percent of the eggs survive,” Fergus Falls DNR Fisheries Manager Arlin Schalekamp said. “In our lakes around here it is pretty low.”
Early ice-out, warming water temperatures and increasing hours of sunlight signal fish to begin their annual spawning ritual. Fish traps already are set at a number of historically used sites. DNR fisheries staff is checking them frequently to time optimal egg collection conditions.
Fish eggs are extracted by hand from live fish and taken to hatcheries throughout the state for a 21-day incubation period.
Hatchery operations include five cold-water hatcheries that produce a variety of trout species and splake. Twelve warm-water hatcheries produce walleye, northern pike, muskellunge and catfish.
“Fish genetics and disease control are key components of the state’s hatchery and fish rearing program,” said Tim Goeman, DNR Northeast Region fisheries manager. “Fish and eggs are regularly sampled and tested to ensure that hatchery operations do not become vectors for spreading aquatic invasive species or fish diseases such as Video Home System, and to ensure native fish strains are preserved.”
The DNR’s fish stocking program supplements prime fish habitat and sound lake management practices, which are the foundation for angling in Minnesota. Natural reproduction sustains the overwhelming majority of Minnesota’s fish populations. It is estimated five percent of walleyes caught in Minnesota are stocked from hatcheries, while the rest are naturally reproduced.
The DNR’s fish hatchery operations produce enough fry and fingerlings to stock approximately 1,333 lakes and 125 streams. Some waters are stocked annually. Some are stocked infrequently. Many never are stocked. The number and frequency of stocking activities in a water body are determined by the lake or stream management plan, which incorporates the carrying capacity of that water body.
The DNR’s fish hatchery programs are funded through the sale of fishing licenses and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Funds. Excise taxes on certain fishing equipment and boat fuel goes to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which distributes sport fish restoration funds to state natural resources agencies based on criteria, including the number of fishing licenses sold. Today, these dollars fund about one-fourth of the DNR’s fish, wildlife and law enforcement work.
People interested in visiting an egg take site or hatcheries are encouraged to call their DNR area fisheries office for available dates and times. Hatchery locations are listed on the DNR website.
Hansel is a reporter for the Wadena (Minn.) Pioneer Journal, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.