North Dakota Game and Fish Department completed one of the largest stocking efforts in its history by releasing millions of walleye fingerlings into more than 140 lakes across the state.

More than 11.3 million of these fingerlings came from Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, which beat its previous record of walleye production by nearly 1 million. The effort was made more challenging as the Valley City National Fish Hatchery was limited to providing fingerlings only to Lake Ashtabula, where zebra mussels were discovered recently.

Lake Ashtabula supplies water to the Valley City hatchery. Zebra mussels, which are native to Russia and Ukraine, are an invasive species in the United States that outcompete native species for food, driving them to near extinction, costing companies and communities billions of dollars.

“This was done out of caution until more is known about the the zebra mussels in Ashtabula,” said Jerry Weigel, the fisheries production and development section leader.

The Valley City hatchery provided walleye fingerlings to other states that have zebra mussels.

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“The condition of the receiving water could not have been better, with cool temperatures and a low of newly flooded vegetation,” Weigel said. “The combination of an amazing walleye production effort and lots of water across the state bodes well for continued great walleye fishing in the future.”

The Game and Fish Department stocked several Grand Forks County lakes this year with fingerlings, which are young fish that have developed scales, working fins and are typically the size of a finger. Fordville Dam was stocked with 24,800 fingerling walleye and 16,940 northern pike fingerlings, Ryan Park Pond was stocked with 350 catchable rainbow trout and Larimore Dam was stocked with 8,000 northern pike fingerlings.

The Game and Fish Department stocks lakes that have a population of desirable fish, such as walleye, that have not yet established or were negatively affected by weather conditions, often referred to as winterkill. If the amount or ice of snow is large during a given winter, aquatic plants are not able to produce oxygen and fish may suffocate.