MADISON — As they begin to swim up and gulp down their first few meals after hatching, the young Skamania steelhead at Kettle Moraine Springs State Fish Hatchery are making important progress toward Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources goals of ensuring a diverse Lake Michigan fishery.
The fish, hatched from eggs provided by the state of Indiana as part of cooperative interstate management efforts, represent the first batch of Skamania steelhead to be reared in the state hatchery system since 2008. Over the next three to five years, DNR fisheries managers intend to continue collecting eggs from Indiana to stock the Kewaunee and Root rivers with some 35,000 fish each.
“We appreciate the mutual support from the state of Indiana and over the years, the exchanges of Indiana steelhead eggs and Wisconsin chinook and coho eggs have created new opportunities for all Lake Michigan anglers,” Giehtbrock said. “By reactivating the Skamania program now, we’re hoping to establish sufficient populations in the two broodstock rivers to allow for egg collection and rearing when the Kettle Moraine Springs hatchery is fully rebuilt.”
“The drive back was a bit nerve-wracking for staff because the water had to be kept very cold and there are always concerns about traffic, but in the end everything went smoothly,” Giehtbrock said. “The fish hatched out at 93 percent and at this point, they are looking good.”
In the past, because of the unique biology of the Skamania, broodstock were captured in September and held at the Kettle Moraine Springs hatchery prior to spawning. The need to hold fish prior to spawning presented a biosecurity problem that put all of the yearling fish production at risk due to diseases such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia or VHS.
In 2008, DNR made the decision to discontinue the production of Skamania until a biosecure area to hold the brood could be designed and built at the Kettle Moraine location. The effort to stock the brood collection rivers with this strain of fish is underway now so that gametes will be available to maximize the production of fish once renovations are complete at Kettle Moraine Springs.
A redesign of the Kettle Moraine Springs hatchery is currently underway with plans calling for a biosecure area large enough to rear all three strains of steelhead. The fish now being raised are scheduled for stocking in the spring of 2018 with anticipated maturity ranging from 2020 to 2022.
Steelhead and rainbow trout are the same species of fish, but those living in Great Lakes tributaries undergo a process called smoltification to prepare for life after leaving their natal streams and entering the larger lake environment. Steelhead were introduced into the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan as early as 1884 but the program gained support as the recreational fishery grew in importance following the introduction of coho and chinook salmon in the 1960s.
Steelhead are native to the western U.S. where they inhabit the coastal waters. Skamania were developed at the Skamania hatchery in the state of Washington while Chambers Creek originated at Washington’s South Tacoma hatchery and Ganaraska have become naturalized in Lake Ontario.
As with other strains of steelhead, Skamania have the capacity to spawn more than once; unlike chinook and coho salmon, they do not die after spawning. For more information about the different strains of steelhead, visit the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, and search “steelhead” [PDF].