- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A multi-year study of walleye in the popular Lake Oahe fishery in the Dakotas is showing that anglers are not over-fishing the resource.

Crews are wrapping up a four-year effort to tag tens of thousands of walleye in the Missouri River reservoir to learn more about them.

Each of the metal jaw tags has an identifying fish number and a phone number. Anglers who catch tagged fish in the study area from the Garrison Dam in North Dakota to the Oahe Dam in South Dakota are asked to notify researchers in the two states.

The hope is to gain new information about how fish move, how long they live and what proportion of them are ending up on anglers’ hooks. This information can be used to improve the quality of the fishery.

Preliminary results have given biologists valuable information, including data on the percentage of catchable-size fish being caught, according to Paul Bailey, a district fisheries supervisor with North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department.

“The angling mortality rate that we’ve seen in the first three years of the study has been about 17 to 27 percent, depending on the region of Lake Oahe and the Missouri River that we’re in,” he said. “Those are all acceptably low rates of mortality that basically says that anglers are not having a negative impact on the fishery.”

Angler mortality in comparable lakes in the region such as Sakakawea and Devils Lake also are in the 25 percent range, according to North Dakota Fisheries Chief Greg Power. Total walleye mortality in Oahe is about 35 to 40 percent, below the typical range in North America of 40 to 55 percent, he said.

“If we started to see total mortality in excess of 50 percent (in Oahe) for a few years, we would have concerns,” Power said. “Fortunately, that has not been an issue.”

The $500,000 study is being paid for through a tax on fishing and boating gear. It’s the first time agencies in the two states have collaborated on a study on Oahe.

Researchers have already started running computer models of the potential effects on Oahe walleye of various regulations and natural events such as declining prey fish, according to Mark Fincel, senior biologist with South Dakota’s Game, Fish and Parks Department. Officials will collect tag return data for another two years, he said.

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