MADISON -- The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources stocked a record number of extended growth walleye fingerlings in key Wisconsin waters in 2016, even as fish from the initial year of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative are expected to begin reaching harvest size this year.
In all, 797,815 of the 6- to 8-inch extended growth walleye were stocked in 150 Wisconsin waterbodies in 2016, up from the 760,969 fish stocked in 133 waters in 2015, said Dave Giehtbrock, DNR fisheries culture section chief. Gov. Scott Walker's proposed 2017-2019 biennial budget continues funding the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative at current levels for both years.
"We appreciate the vote of confidence in our program and the continued support for this important effort to restore and sustain Wisconsin as a premier walleye destination," Giehtbrock said. "This year, anglers can look forward to catching some of the 455,307 large fingerlings we stocked in 2013 with harvest opportunities increasing as more fish reach legal size in the years ahead."
In addition to the fish stocked during the first year of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative in 2013, extended growth walleye stocking totaled 719,670 fish in 2014. Prior to the launch of the initiative, in 2012 the department stocked 142,121 extended growth walleye.
Through the years, the number of lakes that are stocked with the larger fish has varied depending on the size of the waters and number of fish available. Lakes are stocked on a rotating basis and some lakes require a larger number of fish to reach the standard rate of 10 fish per acre needed to support a good recreational fishery. For example, Lake Mendota received 98,077 fish in 2016, none in 2015 and 97,751 in 2014.
Walleye are a favorite quarry for Wisconsin anglers and boost the economy by driving expenditures for lodging, dining, retail purchases, guided trips and tournament participation among other things. Wisconsin remains one of the top three fishing destinations in the U.S. with resident and nonresident anglers generating an economic impact of nearly $2.3 billion per year, according to the American Sportfishing Association.
Giehtbrock said the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative fosters growth in the aquaculture industry, with some 245,000 fish coming from private and tribal hatcheries in 2016. The contributions from private hatcheries continue to climb, with some 239,000 in 2015 and 213,000 in 2014.
Justine Hasz, DNR fisheries bureau director, said support from the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative also has meant critical infrastructure improvements for the state hatchery system including a $4.6 million investment at the Art Oehmcke Hatchery in Woodruff; a $2.5 million investment at the Gov. Tommy G. Thompson State Fish Hatchery in Spooner and a $1.1 million investment at the Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery in Wild Rose.
"Modernization of these facilities contributes to the efficiency of our stocking program with enhanced fish health and better outcomes for anglers," Hasz said. "The improved facilities are functioning well and helping us get these young fish off to the best possible start so that anglers can enjoy great walleye fishing for years to come."
The Wisconsin Walleye Initiative is part of DNR's overall management strategy to help restore naturally reproducing populations in lakes that formerly supported native populations and improve walleye numbers in lakes that need regular stocking to maintain good fisheries.
While stocking the larger, extended growth fingerlings makes sense in some lakes, DNR also stocks approximately 1.4 million small fingerlings each year. DNR fisheries biologists develop stocking plans for the different sized fish based on specific lake conditions; in some lakes the smaller fingerlings perform very well and are more cost effective than the larger fish.