Nets are being cast in the Iowa Great Lakes to collect adult fish for the State Fish Hatchery in Orleans. Hatchery manager Kim Hawkins says with the ice out of the lakes, crews got started late last week.
“Northern pike always spawn before the ice is out on the lakes and they usually like to spawn in the slough areas, so with the lower water, we were capturing them on Big Spirit Lake,” she says. “…We captured enough to be able to spawn on Friday, so we have our Northern Pike eggs already up on the incubators and are doing their thing and looking good.”
Crews wait until the water is at least 45 degrees before collecting adult walleye and muskie, so those operations will start next week according to Hawkins. She says those numbers will be up significantly from last year. The pandemic hit right when walleye and muskie operations were to start, so the number of people working on the annual project was reduced.
“We netted for three nights and whatever fish we brought in, which was actually around 700 females, we spawned and we used all those fry to stock through Iowa,” Hawkins says, “so we ended up producing about 52 million walleye fry last year. Our quota this year is 72 million and we are going to bring a few outside crews in.”
The adult fish collected for the operation are returned to the lakes, while their off-spring are raised at the hatchery. Thousands of people typically make the trek to Orleans to watch the process, but the hatchery remains closed to the public this spring due to the pandemic.
“We are kind of spread out on a 24 hour shift. If anyone were to test positive and due to our protocols the rest of the team that was also around that person would also have to quarantine,” Hawkins says, “so we just really want to stay safe and produce as many fish for Iowans this year as we can.”
The DNR operates eight fish hatcheries around the state and distributes an estimated 130 million fish annually to Iowa lakes and streams.
(By Ed Funston, KILR, Estherville)