Program evaluation finds efficiencies for walleye stocking

A new review has found that greater efficiencies can be realized in a walleye stocking program that doubled the amount of young walleye called fingerlings released into Minnesota lakes starting in the late 1990s.

The review by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources centered on the 254 lakes in the Accelerated Walleye Program. As a result of the review, the DNR plans to continue stocking fingerlings in some of these lakes at the same rate, but on other lakes anglers will benefit from actually reducing fingerling stocking rates.

“With fish stocking, sometimes less is more,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief. “Our review found that 70 percent of the 254 lakes saw no improvement in walleye numbers – some even had declines in walleye – after we massively increased stocking in them. That tells us we need to be more efficient in how we stock fingerlings.”

Going forward, area fisheries managers will continue to play a significant role in setting stocking levels, with stocking tied to lake management plans that include considerations of a lake’s available habitat, prey availability and past success stocking fish. They have been working with lake associations and other interested anglers to review the results of this evaluation on individual lakes and consider changes to lake management plans based on the findings.

The review found:

  • On 70 lakes, stocking at high densities should continue.
  • On 45 lakes, stocking will continue at high densities until evaluations can be completed.
  • On 10 lakes, stocking density or stocking frequency should be increased.
  • On 85 of the 254 lakes, stocking density should be reduced.
  • On 36 lakes, stocking should be converted to fry.
  • On eight lakes, stocking should be discontinued.

“Walleye fishing is excellent in Minnesota because of the large lakes and habitat in other high quality lakes and rivers that support natural walleye reproduction,” Pereira said. “In fact, some 85 percent of the walleye caught in Minnesota are wild.”

Overall in Minnesota, anglers catch most walleye from waters where the fish reproduce naturally – about 260 larger walleye lakes and in large rivers. Because of stocking, walleye can be found in an additional 1,300 Minnesota lakes spread throughout the state. And where fry stocking works well, walleye abundance is close to the abundance in the state’s top lakes with natural reproduction and considerably higher than lakes stocked with fingerlings.

Fingerlings are several months old; fry are newly hatched fish. Roughly one-third of the fry hatched each year by the DNR are kept in rearing ponds throughout the summer and are stocked as fingerlings in the fall. The other two-thirds of the fry are stocked directly into lakes within a few days of hatching. Fisheries biologists check on the survival of stocked fingerlings or fry with follow-up assessments.

To know what lakes are stocked, locate a lake at mndnr.gov/lakefind and click the fish stocking tab. General information about fishing in Minnesota can be found at mndnr.gov/fishing.