RIVERDALE - Late each fall, fisheries biologists capture spawning-age salmon from Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River for the purpose of obtaining eggs. The eggs are fertilized and placed in incubation jars at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery.
The annual harvesting of eggs insures that an ample number of salmon will be raised and returned to Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River. Salmon do not reproduce naturally in North Dakota and die shortly after spawning.
"We've got everything we need, around a million eggs," said Dave Fryda, Riverdale, this past Wednesday. Fryda is the Missouri River System fisheries supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
Fryda said that Lake Sakakawea salmon were larger and healthier appearing than the salmon captured in the Missouri River.
"The river fish were not in very good condition. The lake fish, I think, looked good with the average size similar or up from last year," said Fryda.
The stocking goal in North Dakota for salmon is 200,000 annually. The percentage of salmon eggs in the hatchery that will hatch and survive to stocking size is, generally, figured to be about one-third of the total. The number fluctuates based on a variety of factors, so biologists prefer to prepare for a less than expected survival rate by supplying a high number of eggs to the hatchery.
"We've got more than enough since egg quality is good," said Fryda. "South Dakota came up for three days and took back about 400,000 eggs. The salmon run in South Dakota has been slow."
The 400,000 eggs, emphasized Fryda, were in addition to the million already in jars at the hatchery. It has been common practice for North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana to share chinook salmon eggs when one or more state is in need. The exchange helps perpetuate the Missouri River system's disease-free strain of salmon.