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August 10, 2010

Survey results show walleye stocking needed

ASHLAND - A wide variety of fish species found recently during a survey in the western portion of Chequamegon Bay in Lake Superior shows the bay generally supports a healthy fishery, but a decline in the number of smaller walleyes indicates natural walleye reproduction is limited, so continued walleye stocking is warranted, according to state fisheries biologists.

Department of Natural Resources fisheries managers will compare data with a like survey in 1999 and use the information collected to help manage, maintain and enhance the fishery of the area.

"We caught a wide assortment of fish, which reflects the unique mix of species we have in Chequamegon Bay" said Mike Seider, fisheries biologist in Bayfield.

Species found included walleye, yellow perch, bullheads, silver redhorse, pumpkinseed sunfish, carp, rock bass, northern pike and lake sturgeon. No trout or salmon were caught because the shallow water was above their preferred temperature range. Seider was surprised that no small mouth bass were netted but believed they may have taken up a different habitat type in the warmer and weedier water.

In June a trap net was set west of Excel Energy Plant in Ashland to repeat sampling that was done in 1999. The net was checked daily for a week. On each trip crews found 75-100 fish in the net

Seider said that although the net was only set in about 12 feet of water, several lake sturgeon were also captured each day with the largest fish measuring 50 inches. All the fish were measured and released, with some species receiving individually numbered tags. Walleye and northern pike had their stomachs pumped to assess their diet. The pumping does no harm to the fish which are returned to the water.

Lower walleye catches in the trap net supported the need for supplemental stocking in Chequamegon Bay, Seider said, adding that the number of walleyes under 20 inches declined substantially since 1999.

"This is not surprising because other recent DNR surveys had shown that the number of smaller walleyes was down in the absence of stocking," Seider said.

Walleye stocking was discontinued in the late 1990s because the population was flourishing and the DNR wanted to measure if there was natural reproduction along the Ashland shoreline.

"Our current fishing regulation of a five fish bag limit with only one fish larger than 20 inches has been very effective at protecting large fish because we consistently catch healthy numbers of walleyes greater than 20 inches throughout the year" Seider said. He explained that the decline of smaller fish since 1999, however, indicates natural reproduction is limited in the western portion of Chequamegon Bay.

Walleye stocking started in 1979 to compensate for over-fishing and quickly created a new localized population of walleye that returns to the Ashland shoreline each spring to spawn.

"Stocking really created a spawning population that did not exist previously," Seider said. "Although the Ashland shoreline appears to have adequate habitat, it has become more clear their spawning efforts are contributing very little to the fishery."

Fisheries managers reinitiated a stocking program by planting 200,000 walleyes in the bay in 2009 and about 450,000 walleye fingerlings June 2010. Stocking will be continued to help increase and maintain the walleye population in Chequamegon Bay.

Overall the recent survey provided an overview of the fishery in the bay needed in making management decisions about the species found, Seider said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Michael J. Seider (715) 779-4035 ext. 11

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 10, 2010

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