The Wisconsin Walleye Initiative is on a roll!

State stocking trucks head out on the highways this week with the first loads of larger walleye to be delivered to lakes under the initiative, a funding package aimed at increasing populations of walleye, anglers’ favorite catch.

Over the next few weeks, state fish hatcheries are expected to stock out 300,000 to 400,000 of the 4- to 7-inch walleye, more than four times as many as normal. The two-year, $13 million Wisconsin Walleye Initiative allows DNR to expand stocking of the larger walleye, known as “large fingerlings,” which are more expensive to produce but survive better, and to buy walleye from private, tribal and municipal hatcheries.

“The Wisconsin Walleye Initiative is under way and we’re excited to make these first investments in giving anglers more of what they want: walleye,” says Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp. “Stocking trucks are rolling this week from our cool-water hatcheries in Woodruff, Wild Rose and Albion, with more fish to come in the next few weeks from our Spooner and Lake Mills facilities.”

The fish being stocked now will take several years to grow large enough to be legally kept by anglers, but with them DNR is starting to build the foundation for an effort to jumpstart an increase in walleye populations in many lakes, says Mike Staggs, DNR fisheries director.

“We believe we can increase walleye populations in many lakes with targeted stocking efforts,” Staggs says. “We’ve geared up on short notice in 2013 to quadruple our larger fingerling production and we’re well into the planning that will help us produce even more in coming years.”

The best, most-cost effective walleye fisheries are universally self-sustaining through natural reproduction and produce populations two to three times higher than those waters stocked even at the highest levels, research shows. But stocking can create significant and locally important fisheries, and stocking larger fish is the quickest way to increase walleye populations on the broadest scale where natural reproduction is not adequate, Staggs says.

Normally, DNR stocks 3 to 4 million smaller walleye and 60,000 to 70,000 of the larger fingerling walleye, a split dictated by limited budgets, because the smaller walleye are much cheaper to produce. The smaller walleye, known as “small fingerlings,” are 1 to 2 inches at stocking and are cheaper to produce because they feed on plankton that grow in the fertilized hatchery ponds where they are kept. To keep walleye longer at the hatcheries so they grow to large fingerling size, DNR must buy and feed the young walleyes minnows and keep the fish at lower densities in DNR ponds.

The Wisconsin Walleye Initiative gives DNR the money to keep more walleye longer at the hatcheries and stock them out at the large fingerling size where they stand a better chance of surviving.

The Walleye Initiative was adopted in the 2013-15 budget approved in June, which started July 1.

The walleyes will be stocked in waters fisheries biologists previously identified for stocking. This fall, DNR will be able to go deeper down the list in filling biologists’ requests for certain select waters and also will be able to provide more larger fish.

For stocking in future years under the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative, DNR will be launching a public involvement process this October to help understand what the public wants from walleye fishing in the state.

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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