BISMARCK -- Fisheries crews completed their annual salmon spawning operation on the Missouri River System, collecting more than 1.8 million eggs.

North Dakota Game and Fish Department Missouri River System fisheries biologist Russ Kinzler said crews collected enough eggs to stock 400,000 smolts planned for Lake Sakakawea in 2022.

The majority of eggs were collected from Lake Sakakawea, with a significant contribution from the Missouri River below Garrison Dam. Average size of female salmon was 7.4 pounds, which is about 1 pound smaller than last year. The largest salmon this year were about 14.5 pounds, which is about 2 pounds heavier than the largest salmon last year.

“We’ve had good numbers and size of rainbow smelt, which is the primary forage for salmon in Lake Sakakawea,” Kinzler said. “That has led to some larger salmon the last couple years.”

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Chinook salmon begin their spawning run in October. Since salmon cannot naturally reproduce in North Dakota, Game and Fish personnel capture the fish and transport them to Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery where they are relieved of their eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, young salmon spend about six months in the hatchery before being stocked in Lake Sakakawea.