Egg collection for chinook salmon, the primary game fish species stocked in Lake Michigan by the Department of Natural Resources, was back to normal this fall in Wisconsin.
Improved conditions allowed the Strawberry Creek Weir near Sturgeon Bay to once again serve as the state's chinook collection site.
The facility had been plagued by high water and low oxygen levels in 2019 and 2020 and forced the DNR to turn to backup sites on the Kewaunee and Root rivers.
But this year the DNR obtained 2.3 million chinook eggs at Strawberry Creek, enough to meet its annual need for "kings" for the state hatchery system.
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The Strawberry Creek facility, along with the C.D. "Buzz" Besadny Anadromous Fisheries Facility in Kewaunee and the Root River Steelhead Facility in Racine, are used by the DNR to collect eggs, milt and brood stock to sustain the Lake Michigan trout and salmon fishery.
Eggs are collected, fertilized and taken to state fish hatcheries where they are raised to prescribed sizes and then stocked into Lake Michigan or its tributaries.
The DNR's 2022 stocking quotas for the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan are 1.2 million chinook salmon, 500,000 coho salmon, 460,000 steelhead, 450,000 brown trout and 50,000 brook trout.
The Lake Michigan salmon and trout fishery is dominated by non-native species introduced in the 1960s to help reduce the number of alewife, a small invasive fish that died by the millions and fouled beaches.
But conditions in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan tributaries are poor for natural reproduction of the salmon and trout, so the fishery must be sustained through egg collection and stocking.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also stocks lake trout, a native top predator fish, into the lake.
Last summer Lake Michigan anglers had some of the best fishing in decades for extremely large kings. Several fish 35 pounds or heavier – including a 37-pounder caught off Milwaukee – were caught in Wisconsin waters and a Lake Michigan record 47.86-pounder was landed in Michigan.
Conditions the last two years along Wisconsin's Lake Michigan shore proved the value of having three sites as the Kewaunee and Racine facilities were able to fill the gap created when Strawberry Creek was shuttered.
This year DNR crews processed chinook on five days at Strawberry Creek and handled 630, 1,054, 678, 616 and 473 fish, respectively, for a total of 3,451.
The resulting eggs were fertilized at the facility and transferred to Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery, where they will be incubated, hatched and raised until next spring for stocking into Lake Michigan.
On the Kewaunee River, DNR crews held at least seven processing days through mid-November, handling both chinook (550 fish) and coho salmon (610). Only coho eggs were kept though, with 303,871 eggs collected as of Nov. 9. At least one more processing day for cohos was planned at the site.
Eleven processing days were held on the Root River, with the final occurring Nov. 15. Through fall DNR crews at the Racine facility handled 2,340 coho salmon, 2,174 chinook salmon, 55 rainbow trout and 12 brown trout.
The vast majority – 2,263 coho salmon and 1,634 chinook salmon, 15 rainbow trout and 12 brown trout – were passed upstream to provide opportunities for anglers.
The DNR spawned 608 of the cohos which produced about 325,000 eggs for the hatchery system. The DNR also kept some of the chinook salmon for disease studies.
The Kewaunee and Root river facilities will open once more in spring to collect eggs from steelhead, also known as rainbow trout.
Hunters can help Wisconsinites in need by donating deer harvested in Wisconsin through the DNR’s deer donation program.
Venison from donated deer is processed and distributed to food pantries across the state. Since the program began in 2000, hunters have donated over 94,000 deer which were processed into over 3.8 million pounds of ground venison.
If the deer is killed in certain areas of the state, it must be tested for chronic wasting disease before it can be donated.
For more information, visit dnr.wi.gov and search "deer donation."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin chinook egg collection for stocking back to normal in 2021