By Doug Leier
Numbers get hard to comprehend when I relay to North Dakota anglers that over the past 30 years nearly 250 million walleye and 2 million pounds of trout and salmon have been stocked in North Dakota waters.
It’s where a little perspective and history can help make you appreciate more of what has been done to maintain historical fisheries, expand current and grow future fishing opportunities.
In 1989, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department invested $5 million on infrastructure at Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery to increase fish production. Putting it in economic sense, the investment dividends have been enjoyed by thousands of anglers across hundreds of bodies of water. North Dakota anglers and fisheries are rich thanks to some wise investment and a strong natural influx of water.
Without the water, the investment wouldn’t be nearly as successful. Without the assistance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Dakota’s fisheries wouldn’t be nearly as diverse.
“We have worked literally shoulder to shoulder with hatchery personnel for years with virtually no conflict,” said Greg Power, Game and Fish Department fisheries chief. “In the end, everybody benefits from that type of relationship.”
Jerry Weigel, Game and Fish Department production/development section supervisor, has worked with hatchery personnel for years and the demand for fish right now puts a lot of pressure on the hatchery.
Personnel from both agencies bring different skills to the partnership. State fisheries biologists provide the know-how in egg-collecting, fish-hauling and a thorough knowledge of North Dakota waters. Conversely, the hatchery has disease experts and the wisdom of raising fish.
“We are all working on the same goal of making fishing better across the state, regardless of what uniform we wear, or the different patches on our sleeves,” Weigel said. “They want to produce great, healthy fish, and lots of them, and we want to make sure we’re getting them to the lakes and providing the proper management that makes for the best fishing we can possibly provide.”
Garrison Dam and Valley City national fish hatcheries are critical to North Dakota fishing because the fish populations in many waters are just not self-sustaining. And with many more waters on the landscape today, the demand to produce and stock walleye keeps climbing.
“People need to keep in mind the number of fish we stock isn’t driven by what the hatchery can produce, it’s driven by need,” Weigel said. “Thirty years ago, we only needed 3 to 5 million walleyes because we had fewer than 200 lakes to stock. Today, we have 450 lakes to stock and 10 to 12 million is just barely enough to cover what we need to do.”
Walleye, trout and salmon aside, a number of other fish species have been raised at the hatchery and released into state waters over the years, such as bass, crappie, pike, muskies, paddlefish, the list goes on.
Power applauds the balancing act demonstrated over the years dealing with the state’s recreational fishing needs and management of native species.
“They have been dealing with a number of species that we don’t put on our dinner plates, but we certainly care that they are out there,” Power said. “The pallid sturgeon, of course, is the poster child, but there are so many other species the hatchery system deal with that are also important to North Dakota.”
As time on open water winds down this fall, take a moment to appreciate the cooperation and history that have combined to create some great memories and meals for anglers now and into the future.
Doug Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Dept.
Featured Photo: Fry Day. The millions of fry stocked in the state’s lakes are thanks in part to a strong partnership between the NDG&F and US FWS hatcheries near Garrison and Valley City, ND. NDG&F Photo.