With Minnesota Department of Natural Resources field staff virtually confined to quarters during the governor’s "stay at home" order, the agency on Tuesday said it will cancel its entire 2020 egg-taking program.
DNR fisheries staff go into rivers each spring and grab egg-laden female fish, especially walleye, then harvest those eggs to raise in hatcheries. The big female fish are released, but their eggs are used to stock lakes across the state. Major operations are held annually near Cut Foot Sioux Lake and Lake Vermilion.
Muskellunge, northern pike and steelhead trout had also been included in the egg-taking program, but not this year due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that require workers to keep their distance from each other, the DNR said.
“Collecting eggs and sperm from spawning fish in the wild is a labor-intensive effort that requires teams of six to eight people working in close proximity,’’ the DNR said in a statement Tuesday. “After a careful examination of whether the egg-take process could be re-engineered, the DNR determined that it was not possible to safely handle fish during the egg-take and practice appropriate social distancing to protect staff from COVID-19.”
While this stocking is important to maintain fish populations and angling opportunities over time in some waters that don't have natural reproduction, agency officials said missing one year will not cause long-term harm to the fish population of any water body.
“Fish populations naturally are made up of fish hatched in different years, so a missing or weak-year class is not uncommon,” Brad Parsons, DNR fisheries section manager, said. “In fact, in lakes with natural reproduction, a strong year class often follows a weak year class, so not stocking for one year might actually benefit the following year’s stocked fry.”
Minnesota joins some other Midwest states, including South Dakota, Michigan and Indiana, in suspending egg-take operations. In addition, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has canceled all planned lake sturgeon production for 2020.