AGFC hatchery boosts birthrate in Arkansas walleye

CENTERTON — Last week, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission staff from the
C.B. “Charlie” Craig State Fish Hatchery in Centerton teamed up with other
AGFC staff from northwest Arkansas to gather walleye from the King’s River
and boost the success of their spawn for the future of Arkansas angling.

According to Joe Adams, hatchery manager at Centerton, the walleye project
is conducted every other year here. During the off years, biologists and
staff from the Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery in Hot Springs conduct a
similar project in central Arkansas to increase walleye fishing
opportunities in that portion of the state.

Each year, walleye swim upstream in late winter to spawn, but the success
of that spawn is held entirely to the whims of Mother Nature. The eggs
require a steady flow of current to keep them fresh and healthy until they
hatch. Too little current and the eggs will be smothered; too much and the
water becomes too muddy or flushes the eggs completely out. But hatchery
staff can maintain the perfect “Goldilocks zone” to increase the success of
the spawning fish exponentially.[image: image.png]

“We collected about 70 female walleye and 200 males during the two-night
effort this year,” Adams said. “About two-thirds of those female fish were
ready to spawn, so we collected their eggs, fertilized them with milt from
the male fish and returned the fish to the water unharmed. The rest of the
females were brought back to the hatchery with some males and held in
separate tanks until they were ready to spawn.”

When the fish are ready to spawn, staff will collect the eggs by slowly
pressing against the walleye’s belly to stimulate the process. The eggs are
then manually mixed with milt from male walleye to ensure as much
fertilization as possible.
Over the years we’ve actually discovered that the best tool to stir the
eggs during the fertilization process is a turkey feather,” Adams said.
“Then we add a special clay material called Fuller’s earth, which gives the
eggs a light coating and prevents them from sticking together.”

AGFC staff during the two-night project collected and fertilized more than
4.6 million eggs, which are now being cared for at the hatchery in special
jars. These hatching jars simulate the needed flow rate with gentle
circulation that keeps the eggs moving and suspended in the water.

“It takes eight or nine days for the eggs to begin hatching,” Adams said.
“From there, we’ll move them to tanks, then to ponds to grow a little
larger before stocking.”

The walleye raised at the hatchery will be stocked into Beaver Lake and
Lake Fort Smith, with any extra fish going to Norfork Lake. Additionally,
some of the walleye fry will be stocked into a nursery pond on Bull Shoals
Lake to grow out there. They will be stocked directly into that lake via
direct drain pipe once the fingerlings reach 2 inches long.

“Walleye spawn in all of these lakes naturally, but these stockings help
stabilize the numbers of fish available for anglers in those years when
weather conditions aren’t ideal for natural reproduction,” Adams said.