- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - As anglers hit Minnesota’s lakes Saturday in the season opener, many will be trying for a tasty walleye. But the state fish wouldn’t be in most lakes without a lot of Department of Natural Resources spending to put it there.

Only about 1,500 of Minnesota’s nearly 12,000 lakes have strong enough walleye populations to be managed for walleye by the Department of Natural Resources. And only about one-third of that smaller number have populations vibrant enough to reproduce on their own.

That’s why nearly half of the DNR’s $8.2 million state stocking program goes to walleye, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

“I fished a lot in Grand Rapids when I was younger, and I always thought, ‘Well, these are natural lakes, and these are natural walleyes,’ ” said Neil Vanderbosch, who oversees stocking efforts for the DNR. “I was surprised at how many lakes are stocked.”

Walleye thrive in river systems and big, open lakes with windswept gravelly shores where the fish can reproduce. The state’s largest rivers — including the Mississippi, Minnesota, Red and Rainy — and lakes connected with them all contain native walleye populations. The state’s biggest lakes - Leech, Cass, Upper and Lower Red, Rainy, Winnibigoshish, Lake of the Woods and Mille Lacs - support wild populations that have them known as walleye factories.

Most of the fish taken in those lakes are wild, but hundreds of thousands are stocked.

They’re the result of a $3.8 million program that begins with an “egg take” in the early spring, when wild fish are trapped and the females’ eggs are fertilized by males’ sperm, or milt. Eggs are brought to state hatcheries, where they hatch in about two weeks. Most of the hatchlings, called fry, are stocked in lakes. The rest are dumped into shallow lakes around the state, where they grow into “fingerlings” of about 6 inches; those are stocked in the fall.

“Because it’s the state fish and it’s so highly regarded, people want us to stock them,” said Don Pereira, the DNR’s head of fisheries.

In response to pressure from the public and the Legislature, the DNR in 1999 expanded its stocking. It has spent more money to stock more fish, including large fingerlings, that required contracting with private hatcheries.

Pereira said the DNR isn’t seeing an increase in abundance from the stocking. The agency this year will have a researcher begin looking at decades of data for a more complete answer on how the stocking program is working.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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