Weather hampers walleye, saugeye production

Senecaville, Ohio – The same unusually warm spring weather that
led to early fish die-offs in Lake Erie and several of Ohio’s
inland lakes also took a toll on walleye and saugeye production in
the state fish hatcheries, according to officials with the Ohio
DNR’s Division of Wildlife.

Hatcheries administrator Elmer Heyob said walleye production was
down 75 percent this year, while saugeyes were off by about 33
percent.

It’s the state fish hatcheries at Senecaville, Hebron and St.
Marys that produce walleye and saugeye stock for program lakes and
reservoirs.

Combined, the three furnish about 1.6 million walleye and 5.3
million saugeye fingerlings annually. This year, those numbers were
reduced to about 250,000 walleye and 3 million saugeye.

“The fry just rolled over and died,” said Ray Petering,
administrator of fish management at ODNR.

Adult fish in Lake Erie and several inland locations – most
notably at Pymatuning Lake – suffered from an abnormally warm
April, followed by a cool May. Bacteria counts spiked early in the
unseasonably warm water. Fish that were already stressed and
injured from spring spawning were unable to fight off the increased
number of pathogens in the water, the sudden temperature change,
and the heavy downpours.

As a result, numbers of dead smelt and freshwater drum began
washing up on Lake Erie beaches before Memorial Day. At the same
time, crappie and shad were floating on inland lakes.

“We were concerned that it was related to VHS (viral hemorrhagic
septicemia),” Petering said. “But, it’s not.”

For juvenile fish, it was not so much a matter of more bacteria
and virus in the water, as it was less food, Heyob said.

Hatcheries at Hebron, Senecaville and St. Marys draw their pond
water from adjoining lakes. Those lakes are shallow and tend to
warm quickly when temperatures rise. The warmer-than-normal water
killed off the plankton that are a basic food source for the
developing fry.

“The food chain was disturbed,” Heyob said.” The small organisms
just dried up.”

Fortunately, unseasonably warm temperatures did not affect the
state’s hatch of hybrid striped bass and yellow perch – species
that come on later in the spring. Nor did it affect the eight
million saugeye fry that went directly from the hatcheries into
Alum Creek, and Clendening and Seneca lakes, Heyob noted.

“We’re waiting to see how muskies and channel cats do,” he
said.

ODNR stocks saugeye fingerlings in about 60 inland lakes and
reservoirs. Walleye fingerlings go to a handful of larger bodies of
water such as Berlin Reservoir, Mosquito Creek Lake and C.J. Brown
Reservoir. The state does not stock walleye in Lake Erie.

Fortunately, hatch failures of this scope are a rare occurrence,
Petering said.

“It’s pretty unusual for us to be short of program on anything,”
he added.

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