It started slow but ended fast.
Until Monday, one of the drought’s impacts in Wisconsin was the low number of chinook salmon making their fall spawning runs and returning to the rivers where they had been stocked years before. That was a concern for state fish managers charged with collecting chinook eggs to produce the next generation of kings at state fish hatcheries to challenge anglers.
The lack of rain particularly made for some challenges at Strawberry Creek egg collection facilityjust south of Sturgeon Bay. Normally, thousands of fish stream in from Lake Michigan to spawn in the creek. Most of them were released into Strawberry Creek as fingerlings three to four years ago. This year, the chinook didn’t initially come up the stream like they have in years past.
“These are probably the worst water levels we have seen at Strawberry Creek since we started the chinook stocking program in the late 1960s,” said Steve Hogler, Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist.
When the water levels dropped in 2000, DNR staff installed a pump to help supplement the flow of water into the creek. Despite turning that pump on this year to help bring fish up to the egg collection facility, Strawberry Creek was down to nearly a trickle as the water spread out at the mouth of the creek where the low lake level caused a blockage. To fix that, a section of the creek was dredged to further aid the fish.
The numbers of chinook coming into the facility was still not where it had been previously so staff turned to the backup plan and harvested chinook from the C.D. Buzz Besadny Anadromous Fish Facility in Kewaunee, said Mike Baumgartner, property manager at Besadny, late last week. “This year we had no choice but to spend a day harvesting eggs just in case we can’t catch a break at Strawberry Creek.”
Then, the rains came, and the fish followed. More than 1,200 fish crowded into the Strawberry Creek facility in the last week and state fish crews collected hundreds of thousands of eggs, putting them over the goal for eggs collected.
DNR fisheries crews have a goal of raising a total of 724,000 chinook salmon from the eggs collected at both facilities. They will be raised at the Kettle Moraine Springs Fish Hatchery and the Wild Rose Fish Hatchery.
Image courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources