SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich.–The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indian’s Walleye Stocking Program released 2.1 million walleye this year, 1 million fingerlings and more than one million summer fingerlings, from its walleye rearing ponds in the upper peninsula east and the lower peninsula north. Having a major impact on local fisheries, the tribe’s program has stocked nearly 19 million walleye fry in the Great Lakes, inland lakes and St. Mary’s River since 1995.
The program includes two walleye rearing ponds and an experimental whitefish pond. The program started on a third walleye pond on June 27th.
This year, 380,779 summer fry were stocked in the St. Mary’s River at five sites: 20,208 in the Sault area, 99,206 in Nicolet Lake, 80,327 in George Lake, 60,708 in Raber Bay and 120,330 in Potagannissing Bay.
Elsewhere in northern Michigan, 647,762 fry went to: Cheboygan River (151,532), Epoufette Bay (78,605), St. Martins Bay (305,135), Waishkey River (29,314), Caribou Lake (43,010) , Frenchman’s Lake (7,919), Tahquamenon River (24,946), Culhane Lake (5,070), Pretty Lake (1,217), and Beaverhouse Lake (1,014).
Released in the first days after hatching, half of the million fry went to the Tahquamenon River and the other half to Lac Millecoquins. Sault Tribe Fisheries Enhancement Coordinator Rusty Aikens said walleye are tagged for tracking at three days of age, so survival rates and other data on population can be collected.
Summer fry averaged 1.75 inches this year. Some research shows that 10-15% of summer fry reach adulthood. “The exact percentage of survivability is not known, but the general consensus is that the larger they are at release, the higher the survival rate,” Aikens said.
He added, “Walleyes are stocked at this size and age because they are about to change their diet from zooplankton to eating other fish. Raising them longer would require a steady supply of minnows, which can be very expensive. The summer fry stage offers ‘best value for money’.
Aikens said stocking walleye has proven very useful for fishing. “The percentage of walleye caught in the St. Mary’s River from our hatchery is approaching 50%,” he said.
Aikens said they also provide walleye fingerlings and support for local ponds where the tribe has set up arrangements, such as a pond on Drummond Island that was originally built by the Athletic Club of Drummond Island and is now maintained by Mike Fairchild and his family.
Sault Tribe natural resources biologist Brad Silet said the Sault Tribe fishery is an important resource for the Great Lakes and surrounding areas.
He said, “Walleye plays a crucial role in our subsistence and commercial fishing activities, not to mention the significant impacts it has on our local communities who enjoy catching walleye.