Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Changes suggested for muskie stocking

By Dean
Bortz
Editor

Stevens Point, Wis. — The DNR’s muskie propagation program is in
pretty good shape, but a geneticist who reviewed the program said
the DNR could remove any questions about its muskie efforts by
adding more brood lakes and collecting eggs and milt throughout the
spawning run.

Earlier this year, a citizen effort named the Wisconsin Muskie
Restoration Project (WMRP) sharply criticized the DNR’s muskie
stocking program and blamed the stocking of “genetically inferior”
muskies for ruining state muskie stocks.

The DNR invited geneticist Brian Sloss, of UW-Stevens Point and
the Wisconsin Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit in the College of
Natural Resources, to review its hatchery program and stocking
efforts.

Sloss designed a study to assess muskie genetics, and he
reviewed the hatchery program.

“Granted, it was a quick review, but I have suggested some
changes,” he said. “Overall, the propagation program is not,
genetically speaking, in that bad of shape. The numbers of fish
used, especially in north-central part of the state, is very close
to being optimal … ”

Sloss has suggested the DNR use only lakes with naturally
reproducing muskie populations as brood stock lakes, not lakes with
stocked populations.

“That way, they’re not just compounding a problem, and we don’t
even know if there is a problem, over and over again,” he said.
“The choice of brood lakes, when comes to a propagation program, is
one of hardest things to figure out. I suggested that three to five
lakes be used in a cycle. Basically, you would end up sampling all
of the genetic variation available in muskies up north.”

Sloss also looked at how the DNR should pick fish to spawn. WMRP
has suggested the DNR collect eggs from only the biggest
females.

“I categorically reject that idea,” Sloss said. “That would lead
to domesticating our fish, and we do not want to do that. (By doing
that) we could be ignoring literally thousands of other
characteristics critical to long-term survival. Size is just one
characteristic. That is one thing we notice, but it may not be that
crucial to their success.

“I suggested (that DNR crews) sample based on the timing of the
spawn. Run timing could be genetically based, so they want to
sample fish early, middle and late in the run, and then pick all
different sized fish. That should get the most genetically diverse
fish out into the waters,” Sloss said.

“Remember that a 58-inch fish was at one time a 36-incher.
That’s not to say the DNR doesn’t spawn a 50-incher if they come
across one.”

Sloss said there is also a concern of spawning big fish from
practicality point. Big fish are difficult to handle and DNR crews
do not want to injure big fish.

“Is it more important to get her eggs, or is it more important
to get her back into the water so she can spawn on her own?”

Sloss also suggested increasing the number of fish that are
spawned. “The more fish you spawn, the more genetic material you’re
putting forward,” he said.

He suggested using at least 20 females, then mixing in three
males per female.

Steve Hewett of the Bureau of Fisheries said the DNR is
reviewing Sloss’s suggestions. Hatchery managers are now digesting
the recommendations and coming up with ideas on how the agency
might make changes for the 2006 spawning cycle.

“Probably the biggest thing is to try to get fish from different
lakes,” Hewett said. “We are looking for three to five brood lakes
(with natural reproduction) close to the hatcheries. That will be
easier in the Minocqua/Woodruff area than it will be in
Spooner.”

Hatchery managers also are looking at how they might handle fry
generated from different collections from throughout the spawning
run. They won’t be able to mix the fry in the ponds because the
early run fry could cannibalize smaller fish from the late run.

“We may have to harvest from different ponds to load the trucks,
and that may be a little more expensive,” Hewett said.

“We are looking forward for ways to improve while minimizing
costs. We will see what we can do for this year. We’re going to
continue to work with Brian. This won’t be a one-time change. We
will continue to work on this,” he said.

Wisconsin Outdoor News attempted to reach WMRP member Larry
Ramsell, of Hayward, for comment.

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