by Les Oke (c) 2001
|April 18th was a sunny cold day with a biting north wind. Volunteer
members of COFA (Conservationists of Frontenac-Addington) arrived at Northport on the Bay
of Quinte to gather Walleye eggs for their hatchery. These volunteers started their own
hatchery to raise Walleye for local lakes through the MNR Fisheries Improvement
Program. I recently volunteered to help out and the Trip to Northport was my first
introduction to the fish hatchery process. The trip was organized by Fred Perry of
the group and for many of the volunteers it's the high point of the hatchery process.
Walleye are obtained from commercial fisherman Kendall Dewey on the bay by MNR Fisheries Technicians Steve Lawrence and Rick Topping. After the MNR boat came in the volunteers of COFA Sprang into action transferring male and female Walleye into separate aerated tanks. I could tell by The smooth flow of the work that these guys knew their stuff. The females were gently milked of eggs And the males of sperm into stainless steel containers. Steve Lawrence from the MNR oversaw the operation. " The eggs have to be stirred gently with turkey feathers for an hour", he told me as I started to stir.
The north wind was really biting into us at this point and we could only guess what commercial fisherman Kendall Dewey was facing on the open lake. Steve Lawrence said, "He's tough as nails. An old seagull that subsists on coffee and cigarettes". My numb fingers seemed unimportant as I contemplated all that he faced in earning a living. The volunteers who were busy all around me voiced the same sentiments.
The compassion of these individuals was overwhelming. One of the first female Walleye to be released after being milked of eggs was noticed floating on its side moments later. COFA President Ron Pethick wasted no time in wading to his chest, rescuing and reviving this most precious commodity. He spent 40 minutes at it until the fish finally swam away. While Steve Lawrence and I looked on Steve said, " In the 20 years I've been overseeing the collection of Walleye eggs I've never seen a more dedicated bunch of volunteers. There was some concern that maybe the Walleye wouldn't come into the Bay this year. They stayed out in the deep water of Lake Ontario all winter".
There were three other groups there collecting eggs as well. Floyd Deyo of Verona, MNR White Lake Fish hatchery staff, and a new hatchery run by the Napanee Rod and Gun Club were all present. In all 6 million eggs were collected by the volunteer groups and untold millions by White Lake staff. After Floyd Deyo measured out everyone's eggs the volunteers of COFA put their 3.6 million eggs in coolers and headed back to the hatchery. At the hatchery the eggs were transferred into glass jars where water constantly circulates until they hatch. It takes 28 days and the atmosphere in the hatchery is relatively sedate compared to our day at the Bay. "It's like babysitting", said longtime volunteer George Hawley.
The fry were released the week of May 15. "Through the MNR Program they can only be released into lakes without a current Walleye population", said Ron Pethick. This means that new lakes are being stocked to increase our fishing opportunities. All that you have to do is ask your local conservation group where to fish or better yet get involved in the process. You'll learn a lot and develop a better appreciation of the hard work that goes into rearing these fish.
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