Despite low water conditions in some of its walleye rearing ponds, the Inter-tribal Fisheries and Assessment Program (ITFAP) was able to raise more than 760,000 walleye fingerlings for stocking in local waters. Overall, ITFAP’s analysis shows a significant contribution of stocked walleye in ITFAP’s traditional stocking areas, from 33 percent in St. Marys River to 90 percent in Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan.
All ITFAP field staff coordinate their efforts during walleye spawning time to ensure that enough eggs are collected to support each year’s stocking program, said Allard. This year’s early spring prolonged the walleye spawning run ,making it more difficult to collect the target number of adult walleye for egg collection.
The 2012 walleye fingerlings were stocked at traditional stocking sites in the Great Lakes and St. Marys River:
St. Marys River (five locations): 304,000
Brimley Bay, Lake Superior: 99,000
St. Martin Bay, Lake Huron: 230,000
Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan: 127,000
ITFAP’s walleye stocking program continues to be a cooperative effort between ITFAP and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. ITFAP collected walleye eggs from spawning fish in the St. Marys River and Brimley Bay for stocking back into those waters, as well as St. Martin Bay. MDNR provided ITFAP with walleye eggs collected from Bay de Noc, Lake Michigan, for stocking back into Lake Michigan. MDNR also assisted with trucking some fingerlings to stocking sites in the St. Marys River.
But since production was down this year, ITFAP was not able to meet all of its Great Lakes stocking targets or provide fingerlings to MDNR for stocking in some inland lakes as it did in 2011.
All walleye stocked by ITFAP are marked with oxytetracycline (OTC) to distinguish stocked fish from naturally reproduced fish. This helps ITFAP evaluate the success of the stocking program. The OTC mark can be seen on the vertebrae of a walleye under a special light. ITFAP collects walleye samples from tribal fishers as well as non-tribal sport fishers to look for the OTC mark.
Analysis of OTC marks shows that ITFAP’s stocking program is providing a substantial contribution to local fisheries. For example, samples collected during the 2011 Cabelas walleye tournament on the St. Marys River showed 33 percent were stocked walleye. Sampling by tribal biologists in Brimley Bay showed 53 percent were stocked walleye. In Grand Traverse Bay, sampling showed 90 percent were stocked walleye.
The stocking program is administered by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and receives funding support from the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.