Fishin' with Liz: Keeping an eye on walleye

    10:11 PM, May 9, 2013   |    comments
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    HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (KTHV) -- Walleye are a popular type of perch that are native to Arkansas, and Arkansas Game and Fish is making sure they maintain a healthy population.

    They're somewhat mysterious, sensitive to light and spend most of their life in deep water, only coming up from the shadows at night to feed or spawn.

    Decades ago when many of Arkansas' lakes and reservoirs were created, much of their habitat was destroyed. But a program by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is helping maintain a healthy population.

    Hatchery Biologist Dennis Fendley uses electricity to stun the fish. It doesn't hurt them, and anything can float up, but he's specifically looking for pregnant walleye.

    This activity is part of the South Arkansas Walleye Spawning Project.

    "They just don't reproduce well enough to keep up with the demand of Arkansas anglers," says Fendley.

    Once a year, normally in mid-March at the peak of spawning season, the team hits the water at night for up to two weeks.

    "On average we'll get about 80,000 eggs per female," says Fendley. "Our goal for the project this year is 2.5 million eggs."

    "We'll use three to four males to spawn with the one female that insures that we have fertility, and also promotes genetic diversity."

    The eggs are mixed with the sperm and taken to the Andrew Hulsey hatchery where they're placed in incubation jars. After eight days, they're taken to the tanks to hatch. Once they do, they'll stay in the ponds for 30 to 40 days until they reach about two inches.

    Then they'll make their way back to Arkansas waters, where AGFC hopes they'll thrive.

    Fendley says of the two-and-a-half million eggs collected, only half will hatch into babies (called fry), and once they're put into the pond, only 35 to 40 percent survive.

    Here's a fun fish fact: Arkansas holds the world record for Walleye. A 22-pound, 11-ounce walleye was caught in 1982 at Greers Ferry Lake by Al Nelson of Quitman.

    Along with the South Arkansas Walleye Spawning Project, there is the Northern Arkansas and Greers Ferry Walleye Projects. There have been more than 116 million walleye stocked into public waters in Arkansas since the early 1960s.

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