Biologists striving to understand walleye movement

By John Hageman
Contributing Writer

Chautauqua, N.Y. — Jason Robinson, of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, made a presentation to the Association of Great Lakes Writers at its annual conference about Eastern Basin walleye movements in Lake Erie.

Ohio and other Great Lakes state fisheries research biologists have been outfitting walleyes, lake trout, and lake sturgeon with internal transmitters and strategically placing receivers for the past few years across the lakes and rivers to plot their movements.

They have established the Great Lakes Acoustic Telemetry Observation System, where anyone can learn about ongoing research and view fish returns at http://data.glos.us/glatos/.

New York fisheries biologists are trying to learn more about lakewide movement migration of walleye captured seasonally in the Eastern Basin.

Robinson said that it is been speculated that about 10 percent of these walleyes are self-produced in the Eastern Basin, with spawning occurring on reefs within Van Buren Bay, the Grand River in Ontario, and Smokes Creek in Buffalo.

What the transmitter data has told them does not match longstanding fishermen beliefs so far. Angler input told them and earlier jaw tag returns showed that walleyes are only present along the New York shoreline from mid-May through mid-August.

Yet, transmitter data is indicating the presence of walleyes in the Eastern Basin from May through November, before most of them head westward to spawn on the Western Basin reefs and in the Sandusky, Maumee, and Detroit rivers.

Of 29 transmitter returns that have been received so far, five walleyes made it to Buffalo, nine to Sturgeon Point, and 16 to Dunkirk after they all passed the Pennsylvania/New York line.

A couple of interesting transmitter data points were mentioned by Robinson. One was from a 28-inch female walleye, which traveled 22 miles in 48 hours, going from Van Buren Bay to the Evans Bar. Other tags were returned from a live fish market shop in Toronto and from a factory in Wisconsin where entrails are processed into fertilizer from commercially caught fish from the Ontario waters of Lake Erie.

It is common knowledge that the biggest walleyes in the lake are female, and the New York biologists’ catch records indicate that 100 percent of the walleyes over 26 inches that they have examined so far have been females. Walleyes from other parts of the lake have been known to occasionally exceed 30 inches.

Of walleyes under 26 inches, 35 percent of them lakewide have been sexed as females, but 50 percent of those in the Eastern Basin are females. Of the tagged walleyes, with the exception of disproportionately more fish over 30 inches, all sizes of fish were distributed equally into the Eastern Basin.

Radio-tagged fish are now providing millions of data points as they pass the receivers. The movements of walleyes and other Great Lakes fish will be much better understood in a much shorter period of time compared to Floy- or jaw-tagged fish.

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