Now through mid-April, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fisheries staff will be working at lakes and rivers throughout Minnesota on the spring fish egg take to support the state's 17 hatchery operations.
Early ice-out, warming water temperatures and increasing hours of sunlight are signaling 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. Fry, or new hatchlings, then can be moved to rearing ponds where they are grown to fingerling size or released directly into selected lakes, depending on the management plan, water and habitat conditions.
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 VHS, 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 5 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 hatchery are encouraged to call their DNR area fisheries office for available dates and times. Hatchery locations are listed on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/areas/fisheries.