RIVERDALE Salmon are running up the Missouri River and gathering on the lower end of Lake Sakakawea.
Salmon die when they reach spawning age, so biologists are in the midst of collecting as many salmon as possible and harvesting the eggs from them. The eggs will be hatched at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery.
North Dakota Game and Fish personnel have been routinely electro-fishing to obtain spawning age salmon. Additional salmon are running up the Missouri and into a smaller stream leading toward the hatchery. Some of them swim up the current and into a holding tank where they can be picked up by biologists and brought to the hatchery's Salmon Building for artificial spawning.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Jerry Tishmack, right, Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, collects salmon eggs with the help of student intern Alison Zehnle, center, and Brian Frolich, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, left.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Spawning age salmon coming up the Missouri River enter this flowage and are then captured. The area is open to the public so they can view the annual return of the salmon.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Eggs as they look when taken from a spawning salmon. The question is, how many of these eggs will actually produce salmon for future stockings.
"We've been collecting adult salmon from both Sakakawea and the river," said Dave Fryda, N.D. Game and Fish Department fish biologist, Riverdale. "So far about half-and-half from each. Overall size is down this year in both places, but not bad. The river fish are averaging somewhat bigger as usual."
Big this year for salmon is 10 pounds, but there's been very few of that size captured.
"Typically what we've seen, especially out of the river, is some 15- to 17-pounders and we haven't seen any of that stuff yet," Fryda said. "In general everything is a little smaller."
Lake Sakakawea survey
N.D. Game & Fish biologists recently completed their fall reproduction surveys on Lake Sakakawea.
Complete results have not yet been fully tabulated and compared to previous year's numbers, but initial observation is that Lake Sakakawea's fish are doing quite well.
"We saw good numbers of young-of-the-year walleye. There's good numbers of age one walleye out there and this year's walleye are fairly strong," said Game & Fish fish biologist Dave Fryda. "There's a lot of pike two to three years old, in the system, and a lot of young smallmouth coming on. The sauger are pretty good too. Overall, everything is pretty good in the lake."
Salmon running up the small stream below the hatchery Thursday morning were quite small, perhaps three to four pounds. Many of them had lost their green speckled color, exchanging it for black and white which indicates the end of the salmon's life cycle. Nevertheless, watching salmon swim up the stream is infinitely entertaining and open to the public. When the last salmon will enter the stream is unknown, but late October usually signals the end of the run.
"They reduce their activity and really don't show an interest in feeding," said Fryda.
Biologists hope to obtain 750,000 to 1 million eggs from North Dakota salmon this year. The amount to be stocked back into Lake Sakakawea in 2012 is about 250,000, a number Fryda called a "fairly heavy stocking."
Because Lake Sakakawea reached spillway stage earlier this year, a record amount of water was released for several weeks
through the spillway gates, regulatory release tunnels and power generating tunnels. An unknown quantity of fish passed through the tunnels and into the Missouri River below Lake Sakakawea, many were killed or injured in the process. However, evidence shows that some also survived the turbulent trip.
"What we're finding is that most of the river fish are lake stocked fish that drained through," Fryda said. "That's according to the tags we've read so far. We had a lot of entrainment through the system this year, as we had anticipated."
Fryda added that the egg quality from river fish this year has been better than Lake Sakakawea fish. The salmon spawning operation is expected to continue through the end of the month. The first eggs are expected to hatch in late November.