Hatcheries boost birthrate in Arkansas walleye population

Hatcheries boost birthrate in Arkansas walleye population

HOT SPRINGS (AGFC) – Biologists at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Andrew Hulsey Fish Hatchery in Hot Springs hatched more than half a million walleye for area lakes last week. Even more are in the nursery pond on the west end of Lake Ouachita, thanks to the AGFC's annual walleye spawning project.

Each year, walleye swim as far upstream as possible to lay and fertilize their eggs. Unlike bass and other sunfish, walleye do not build and defend nests or fan the silt away from their eggs. Instead, they let free-flowing water keep them clean and out of the silt.

Water levels, current and the timing of spring rains play a huge role in the success and failure of each year's spawn. A small percentage of eggs hatch during the best conditions. Hatcheries can increase that hatch rate and the survival of fry by collecting eggs and artificially spawning them in a controlled environment.

"At best, we can hatch as many as 60 percent of the eggs we collect," said Dennis Fendley, hatchery biologist at Hulsey Hatchery. "When fry are ready to hatch, we move them to tanks, then to ponds on the hatchery or designated nursery ponds."

The fish stay in the ponds and grow until they reach the target size for stocking.

"We see some loss in numbers as the fish age, but the larger the fish stocked, the better their chance of survival," said Fendley. "This year we'll stock the fingerlings in lakes Catherine, DeGray, Greeson, Hamilton, Ouachita and in the Ouachita River."

This year's collection effort managed right at 2.9 million eggs. The percentage of eggs hatched, however, was a bit lower than usual.

"We collected below Carpenter Dam and Blakely Dam," Fendley said. "Entergy and the Corps of Engineers worked with us to give a little time to collect between flood conditions this year, but the warm weather did impact our hatch rate."

Fendley said this year's spawn seemed to be a bit earlier than previous years, and the best-producing female and male fish likely had spawned before the hatchery crews could collect them.

Walleye in north Arkansas lakes also received a boost from AGFC efforts. The C.B "Charlie" Craig State Hatchery in Centerton also gathered spawning walleye the last few weeks to collect more than 1.4 million walleye fry. Once the walleye have grown large enough to stock, the hatchery will bring them to Bull Shoals, Beaver and Table Rock lakes. A nursery pond on Norfork Lake also has received 386,000 walleye fry to grow out before being released.

Joe Adams, hatchery manager at the AGFC's Centerton facility, said collecting female walleye that were ready to spawn took a bit longer than normal in his area as well.

"We were mostly collecting smaller females that were ready to spawn," Adams said. "A lot of the larger females we saw were still not ready. It could have been due to the up and down temperatures or the rain events we've had, but we didn't see a big spawning run at the usual time we collect the eggs."