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Tim Simonson (608) 266-5222; Randy Larson (920) 622-3527

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WILD ROSE One key to keeping the trophy musky factory humming in Green Bay is now swimming in hatchery ponds here and eating everything in sight.

The 3,000 young spotted muskies that arrived Aug. 31 at Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery -- about 4 inches long and 4 grams each -- carry biologists' and anglers' hopes that eventually they will produce offspring that can build a self-sustaining population in the bay.

The Department of Natural Resources and partners have created a wildly successful fishery for Great Lakes spotted musky in Green Bay through stocking, but restoring the species to self-sustaining status there has been more elusive.

So these young fish will be raised at Wild Rose through the fall and winter and stocked in summer 2012 in Elkhart Lake in Sheboygan County and Anderson and Archibald lakes in Oconto County, according to Randy Larson, Wild Rose Hatchery fish propagation supervisor. Several years down the road DNR hopes to return to the lakes to collect eggs to produce future generations of spotted musky for Green Bay, the Fox River, Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan.

Right now, however, the fish are busy getting used to their new surroundings -- two ponds at the hatchery -- and feeding on small fathead minnows and small forage paid for through a generous donation by the Musky Clubs Alliance of Wisconsin and natural resource damage award funds made by responsible parties in the cleanup of PCBs from the lower Fox River and Green Bay.

The state Natural Resources Board accepted a $20,000 donation from the alliance earlier this year. The gift included about $10,300 to buy minnows to feed the hungry young muskies, $6,100 for a new utility four-wheeler at the Woodruff hatchery, $2,500 for PIT (passive integrated transponder) tags and readers, which allow DNR to individually mark wild brood fish used for spawning, and $1,000 for supplies to make hauling young muskies to their ultimate destinations more efficient, according to Tim Simonson, a DNR musky biologist.

The money is also paying for forage for spotted muskies produced from Fox River parents and being raised at the C.D. "Buzz" Besadny Anadromous Fish Facility in Kewaunee and associated ponds. These fish will be stocked back into Green Bay to supplement the burgeoning fishery there, Simonson says.

"The alliance's gift will play an important role in bringing Wisconsin closer to restoring these native fish to Green Bay and Lake Michigan, and their future commitment of money will allow us to plan more musky stocking in the heart of the northern Wisconsin musky range," Simonson says.

DNR's long-standing partnership with the Musky Clubs Alliance has resulted in enhancements to the muskellunge fishery and management program that would not have otherwise been possible, based on current budgets alone, Simonson says.

The spotted musky delivered to Wild Rose originated from Lake St. Clair, a world-famous spotted musky fishery located between the State of Michigan and Ontario, Canada. DNR staff helped Michigan DNR staff collect the eggs, which were incubated, hatched, and reared to small fingerling size at the Wolf Lake Hatchery in Michigan.

The fish were tested and certified as disease free before being brought to Wisconsin and will be tested again before being stocked in Elkhart, Anderson and Archibald lakes, all of which have been found to be VHS-free.

Stocking continues to be one of the main strategies to try to restore populations of spotted musky. DNR, in cooperation with several local musky clubs and the Musky Clubs Alliance of Wisconsin, stocked the first spotted musky into Green Bay in 1989 and later into the Winnebago system, which is in the same basin. The fish have grown very fast in the favorable conditions of those large waters and are now accounting for a large proportion of the trophy muskies caught in Wisconsin. The contribution of big fish from Lakes Michigan and Superior to the Muskies Inc. registry has increased from 2 percent in 2004 to 24 percent in 2009.

The effort hasn't been as successful in establishing an inland lake brood stock population nor in developing a self-sustaining population in Green Bay. Until recently, no evidence of natural reproduction had been documented.

Now it has, and with the arrival of the 3,000 musky and the continuing partnership with Michigan and the Musky Clubs Alliance, DNR fisheries officials are hopeful they can continue to build up the critical number of spawning age fish needed to realize successful and significant natural reproduction of the Great lakes spotted musky.

More news from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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