Fisheries crews in North Dakota have completed their annual salmon spawning operation on the Missouri River System, collecting more than 1.6 million eggs.

Crews easily collected enough eggs to stock the 400,000 smolts planned for Lake Sakakawea in 2020, said Dave Fryda, Missouri River System supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Unlike past years, Fryda said the majority of eggs were collected from the Garrison Dam Tailrace and the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery salmon stream instead of from Lake Sakakawea. Average size of female salmon was 6.5 pounds, which is similar to the last few years.

“The high releases through Garrison Dam this summer, which continued through the fall, resulted in extensive entrainment of salmon from Lake Sakakawea,” Fryda said. “Salmon were scarce in Lake Sakakawea during the spawning season but abundant below the dam. In fact, 94% of all eggs collected in 2019 were from below the dam.”

Annual tagging of young salmon before stocking allows positive confirmation that the abundant salmon found below Garrison Dam were from fish stocked in Lake Sakakawea, Fryda said.

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Chinook salmon begin their spawning run in October. Since salmon cannot naturally reproduce in North Dakota, Game and Fish Department and Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery personnel collect eggs and transport them to the hatchery.

Once the eggs hatch, young salmon spend several months in the hatchery before being stocked in Lake Sakakawea.