Fish and Wildlife has best hatchery year to date

By Tami Watt

Despite the pandemic the Seneca Nation Fish and Wildlife crew had a successful electroshocking outing this past month. The crew had the best collection to date.

In the 9 years of operation, the Walleye Project has become a great benefit the Seneca community. “We experience more success every year, it has been a tremendous journey to watch this project thrive. This year has been the best hatchery to date, my crew really outdid themselves this year. I’m really proud of their dedication and efforts. In the process, Shane and the rest of the staff have become valid walleye experts that are respected in conservation world,” explains Director Allie George (Allegany).

Shane Titus, Fisheries Manager, estimates about 6.5 million walleye eggs were collected through electroshocking. Titus projects about 5 million fry (hatched walleye eggs) will be released back into the reservoir, locally known as Ohi:yo’ (the good river).

Electroshocking is the process of sending a pulse of electricity into the water to stun the fish into submission for collection. This is how the male and female walleye are retrieved from the river and brought back to the hatchery for fertilization.

The Fish and Wildlife staff utilize boats for safety due to dangerous water levels and currents, large debris such as trees can cause serious injuries. Using a boat is critical for safety.

Once the walleye are collected, they are brought back to the hatchery until they are ready to their release eggs. The males and females are divided into their own tanks. They are held in separate tanks to prohibit spawning. The females are checked daily with slight pressure placed on their abdomen. If eggs come out easily without much pressure, they are ready for release.

Staff handles the fertilization process manually by removing the eggs from the female and mixing it with the milk from the males. The fertilized eggs are collected and stored in hatching jars. The eggs take 25-30 days to hatch. After the eggs hatch, the fry are released into the reservior system. Around 5 million fry will be released this year.

The walleye fry are placed into the Christmas trees that were donated to from the community and local Home Depots- brining their project full circle. The trees provide food and shelter for the tiny walleye fry ( about the size of the a mosquito larvae) against larger game in the river. This allows the fry to mature. “That’s the reason for us being out in the middle of winter placing trees at the bottom of the river,” explains Titus.

After the fertilization process is complete, the males and females are released. The females receive a T-Bar purple Seneca Nation tag with a number on it that documents their length, weight, and past egg release. If a local fisherman catches a female with a purple tag, they can go www.senecaconservation.com and fill out a questionnaire. This allows them to track their females. Female walleye have been caught as far up as Hindsale, NY and Aldred, PA.

“Our scientific documentation and efforts are beneficial for the entire watershed, not only for the Seneca Nation but for the entire area and river system,” says Titus.

Although walleye are released, Fish and Wildlife’s operation does not end. Staff conducts surveys throughout the year to check for walleye survival rates. According to Titus, survival rates have increased steadily over the last few years.

In the off season, the Fish and Wildlife shift their focus on other aquatic species in the Ohi:yo’ and continue to conduct surveys for collection purposes.