DNR changes Kamloops stocking to prevent the spread of VHS

Kamloops rainbow trout bound for Lake Superior have been stocked in Amity Creek for the first time ever this spring. The Amity Creek stocking replaces the traditional stocking of the popular rainbows in the upper Lester River. That stocking was c...

Kamloops returns

Kamloops rainbow trout bound for Lake Superior have been stocked in Amity Creek for the first time ever this spring.

The Amity Creek stocking replaces the traditional stocking of the popular rainbows in the upper Lester River.

That stocking was curtailed because fisheries managers want to prevent the possible movement of VHS, a fish virus, to inland waters.

The Kamloops rainbows were raised at the French River Hatchery, which uses Lake Superior water, and VHS was discovered in Lake Superior in recent months.

"We aren't 100 percent confident that fish from the French River Hatchery haven't been exposed to VHS," said Don Schreiner, Department of Natural Resources Lake Superior area fisheries supervisor at French River.


Tests on the fish have so far been negative, but fisheries managers are taking every precaution, Schreiner said.

On Amity Creek, a tributary of the Lester River, the trout were not stocked above the stream's barrier falls. That will prevent them from ascending the stream to inland waters. Fisheries officials hope the trout will imprint in Amity Creek and the Lester River before migrating down to Lake Superior. If they do imprint, they'll return about four years later as adults for anglers to catch.

A total of 28,000 Kamloops rainbows were stocked in Amity Creek. About 92,500 Kamloops rainbows have traditionally been stocked at the Lester River, the French River and the McQuade Small Craft Harbor annually.

Another 10,000 Kamloops rainbows already have been stocked this spring at the French River, Schreiner said. Another 25,000 will be stocked at the French in mid-July, along with 25,000 at McQuade Small Craft Harbor.

All of this year's stockings will be fish raised at the French River Hatchery.


This spring's take of Kamloops rainbow eggs at the French River has been shipped to the DNR's Spire Valley Hatchery near Remer for rearing. The switch from the French River Hatchery to Spire Valley is being made to save the DNR about $70,000 in fuel costs needed to heat Lake Superior water at the French River Hatchery and could save more as French River employees retire and are not replaced.

But raising fish at Spire Valley means they'll have to be stocked earlier in the spring so they can imprint to North Shore streams. The earlier stocking means fish will be smaller than those typically raised at the French River Hatchery. Smaller stocked rainbows typically don't survive as well as larger ones once they've migrated down to Lake Superior and encounter predator fish such as lake trout and salmon.


Anglers who enjoy catching Kamloops rainbows are concerned that shifting the production to Spire Valley will result in the eventual closing of the French River Hatchery.

"I think that's their (the DNR's) long-term plan," said Ross Pearson, an avid Kamloops angler. "Now they're using VHS as an excuse to shift everything. It's just another weapon in their arsenal to shut that plant down."

Dealing with VHS is not an excuse to change hatchery practices, Schreiner said. Shifting of Kamloops rearing is an economic reality, he said.

"This is definitely not my decision," Schreiner said. "We're doing our best to continue the (Kamloops) program. But if the dollars aren't there, we'll continue to look at the highest-cost programs we have and see if the cost-benefits are there. And French River (Hatchery) is the highest-cost facility we have."

Pearson and other Kamloops anglers are concerned that returns of adult Kamloops rainbow trout from the Spire Valley stocking will be much poorer than returns of fish raised at the French River Hatchery, where the young fish are naturally imprinted to French River water.

Schreiner, too, expects that to be the case.

"I would expect the returns would be lower, by putting them in at that small size to have them imprint, based on what we've observed with other fishes," Schreiner said.

Anglers have circulated a petition calling for the DNR to keep raising Kamloops rainbows at French River and to keep the hatchery open. Pearson said he has collected about 500 signatures, but they have not been forwarded to DNR officials.


Pearson also doesn't see how taking eggs from Lake Superior Kamloops rainbows and shipping them to Spire Valley removes the threat of moving VHS to inland waters.

The eggs are treated three times with an iodine solution that so far has proven 100 percent effective, not only in Minnesota but other states, Schreiner said.


The DNR also is grappling with the matter of stocking steelhead fry in light of VHS. Steelhead are rainbow trout originally stocked in Lake Superior in 1895 that reproduce mostly on their own. But the DNR does stock some steelhead fry to bolster the population.

Typically, those fry have been stocked above upstream barriers (major waterfalls) on North Shore streams, but that technically puts the fish in inland waters, where they could move farther inland.

To prevent that this spring, those steelhead fry will be stocked just below upstream barriers on several streams, Schreiner said, instead of above the barriers. The streams scheduled for stocking this spring have sufficient water below the barriers for the young steelhead to use as nursery waters. But the streams scheduled for stocking of steelhead fry next spring have barriers much closer to Lake Superior, leaving the fish little room to grow.

"We've got to figure out something different," Schreiner said. "It puts the future of the rainbow trout stocking program in question."

Fisheries officials from St. Paul, Grand Rapids and Duluth met Wednesday at French River to discuss the implications VHS on trout stocking efforts on Lake Superior and inland lakes.

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