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Salmon Spawn Completed


Fisheries crews have completed their annual salmon spawning operation on the Missouri River System after collecting roughly 500,000 eggs.

Dave Fryda, North Dakota Game and Fish Department Missouri River System supervisor, said the salmon spawning season was a challenge, with almost all of the eggs taken from Lake Sakakawea. Only a few were collected from the Missouri River below Garrison Dam.

“Dropping water temperature combined with declining daylight are major cues for salmon to spawn, but water temperatures this year were slow to cool and remained among the warmest we have seen through the entire spawn,” Fryda said. “In addition, unlike past years, our staff was unable to access the emergency flood tunnels of Garrison Dam to collect salmon, which annually has been a significant source of eggs.”

Fryda said the average size of Lake Sakakawea females was 11 pounds, the largest documented since the inception of the salmon program. “The average size and condition of females was exceptional, but overall numbers were not what we expected,” he added. “South Dakota and Montana had the same challenges collecting eggs this year.”

However, Fryda said the abundance of young male salmon, also called jacks, was a bright spot. “Jacks are 1-year-old male salmon that become sexually mature, and typically a high abundance of these young males will forecast a good run over the next couple years.”

Fryda said these yearling males are from the stocking of 208,000 salmon in Lake Sakakawea in 2014. The eggs collected this fall should produce 150,000 to 200,000 salmon, and plans are to stock all of those fish in Lake Sakakawea in 2016. None are scheduled for the river below Garrison Dam, Fryda said.

Chinook salmon begin their spawning run in October. Since salmon cannot naturally reproduce in North Dakota, Game and Fish Department and Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery personnel collect eggs and transport them to the hatchery.

Once the eggs hatch, young salmon spend several months in the hatchery before being stocked in Lake Sakakawea.