Annual Fort Peck Walleye Spawn Underway Without Volunteers
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Fort Peck Reservoir walleye spawn/egg-take effort will be completed using only Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 6 staff. Unlike prior years, no volunteers will be participating in this popular spring event.
FWPs’ number one priority is the health and safety of the public and its employees. FWP fisheries chief Eileen Ryce determined that, with the current social distancing guidelines, this was the best decision for all involved. Many other projects across the state that oftentimes use volunteers, in addition to FWP personnel, have also been reformed this year.
“We apologize for any inconvenience to our volunteers and will miss seeing all the folks that annually help out with this spawn effort,” said Heath Headley, Fort Peck Reservoir biologist. “Volunteers are the main reason this spawn and egg-take effort has been so successful over the years.”
FWP staff has been contacting volunteers who had requested/submitted volunteer forms in their effort to assist.
“We tried to let everyone know as soon as possible, and we are look forward to seeing all our great volunteers next year,” said Headley Personnel from the Fort Peck Fish Hatchery, Fort Peck fisheries staff, regional law enforcement and other region 6 employees will all chip in to collect and spawn walleyes this spring. Care will be taken to follow social distancing guidelines as much as possible between the employees and their operations. Due to a limited workforce and downsizing the operation, this will likely mean fewer eggs collected this spring.
FWP staff will attempt to collect enough eggs to ensure that all rearing ponds at Fort Peck and Miles City fish hatcheries are stocked with walleye fry. The emphasis will be for walleye fingerling production with little-to-no fry plants this season. A small amount of northern pike eggs will also be collected to meet stocking requests for the state of Montana.
Like previous years, for those folks who still want to keep up with the spawning activity, there is another avenue of outreach: Marc Kloker, region 6 information and education program manager, will be posting frequent updates from Headley about the walleye spawn to the region 6 Facebook page. Updates will include current trap net and egg-take efforts, data on fish and eggs collected and photos and videos.
“This is a wonderful way to keep the public updated on our walleye egg-collecting efforts on a weekly basis,” Kloker said. “Providing photos and videos of the fish and the operation in general will give everyone a virtual first-hand experience. Please “like” and “follow” by going to the region 6 Facebook page at facebook.com/MontanaFWP. R6.”
Headley’s first update, posted Tuesday, April 14, reported the start of the spawn/egg-take effort.
“However, apparently Mother Nature isn’t sure what time of year it is,” Headley said. “Several days ago, water surface temperatures were approaching 50 degrees in the shallower areas where some our trap nets are located. As of yesterday, water temperatures dropped back down to 35 degrees due to the cold front that moved through the area bringing snow and nighttime lows into the upper teens.”
“The brief warm spell we experienced last week triggered a few walleye to start cruising the shorelines,” continued Headley. “As with the beginning of every walleye spawn, male walleye are typically more abundant. That pattern seems to hold true once again. A majority of the walleye captured in the trap nets have been males, but we have captured a few green (not releasing eggs) females as well. Surprisingly, we also managed to pick up a few ripe (releasing eggs) female walleye. These ripe females allowed us to hold two small egg-takes on Friday and Saturday.”
For more information related to FWP’s response to COVID-19, visit fwp. mt.gov.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 6 staff member Ryan Lott holds a nice female
walleye from one of the trap nets.
(Photo courtesy Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks)