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September 28, 2010

Facilities offer open houses, tours to watch egg collection

STURGEON BAY, Wis. -- Lake Michigan trout and salmon soon will start their spawning runs, offering "eggscellent" opportunities to see state fish crews collect the fish eggs needed to produce the next generation of salmonids to test anglers on the big pond.

Egg collection
Lake Michigan depends on stocking of chinook salmon to provide the fishery, a process that begins with egg collection at DNR's Strawberry Creek facility outside Sturgeon Bay.
WDNR Photo

The eggs are collected at three facilities open to the public whenever Department of Natural Resources staff are processing fish, and two of the facilities along Lake Michigan have open houses set for Saturday, Oct. 9, for demonstrations, fishing skills instruction, and other fun.

The C.D. "Buzz" Besadny Anadromous Fisheries Facility located along the Kewaunee River in Kewaunee County offers food, fish and fun at their annual open house, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. with guided tours of the facility at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The Root River Steelhead Facility located along the Root River in Racine, also holds its event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will include guided tours of the facility, hands-on demonstrations of fish spawning procedures by fisheries staff, fishing rod casting lessons, knot tying, and fly-tying.

The third egg collection facility, Strawberry Creek Weir outside Sturgeon Bay, does not have an open house per se but all three facilities are open to the public during times when DNR crews are processing fish.

Frequent heavy rains over the summer and into fall have Mike Baumgartner, who supervises the Kewaunee facility, looking for good runs of fish.

"I would expect an above-average return just for the fact we've had more water this year than we probably had in the last 10 years, especially leading in to the run," Baumgartner says.

The pumps that supplement river water flows into the facilities are expected to be turned on Oct. 1 for the Strawberry Creek facility, Oct. 4 at the Root River facility, and Oct. 5 or 6 at the Kewaunee facility.

The fall egg collection marks the start of DNR's propagation process. The eggs will be hatched at DNR hatcheries and raised there until they are stocked into Lake Michigan, at about 4-months old for chinook, and at 1 1/2 years for coho, steelhead and brown trout. The different species are stocked according to the stage in their lifecycle at which naturally reproducing fish would normally leave the tributaries to live in Lake Michigan. That stage is much earlier for chinook.

The vast majority of fish populations in Wisconsin are naturally self-sustaining, but Lake Michigan chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout (all three fact sheets in PDF format) are not. These Pacific coast fish are not native to Wisconsin, but were stocked starting in the late 1960s to control alewives, an exotic species whose populations were exploding because sea lampreys had killed off their main predators.

Wisconsin's tributaries to Lake Michigan lack the clear, cold, well-oxygenated streams needed for successful reproduction by chinook, coho and steelhead. As a result, the egg collection and stocking program is critical to keeping the salmon as a predator and sport fish.

"Great fishing on Lake Michigan starts here," says John Komassa, supervisor of the Root River facility.

Chinook and coho make their spawning runs in the fall, with chinook first. Different steelhead strains run at different times -- some in the spring and some starting in the mid-summer and running well into the fall -- and the Seeforellen strain of brown trout run from October through December.

The fish start congregating in the mouths of the tributary rivers in fall, with the decreasing amounts of daylight and dropping temperatures triggering the fish to start their runs, Komassa says. Rain increasing the water flow is also an important factor in starting the run.

Strawberry Creek is the state's primary collection facility for chinook eggs, with the C.D. Besadny facility on the Kewaunee River and the Root River Steelhead Facility near Racine providing backup. Those facilities are the leading sites for collecting coho, steelhead and Seeforellen brown trout eggs.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Besadny Facility: Mike Baumgartner (920) 388-1025; Strawberry Creek, Scott Hansen (920) 746-2864; Root River, John Komassa (262) 594-6218

Last Revised: Tuesday, September 28, 2010

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