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Sauger fisheries in state to benefit from new attention by Game and Fish Department

May 29, 2013 - From staff reports

Population estimates in the Popo Agie River and Little Wind River have shown a dramatic decline in sauger numbers since 2002, and monitoring of Boysen Reservoir has shown a similar decrease in the sauger catch.

Two sauger spawning operations occurring this spring in the Wind/Bighorn River drainage will help recover populations in one area and, in the other, improve the sport fishery and ensure genetic purity.

In the Wind River drainage, the operation will involve taking eggs from female sauger and raising offspring to 3-inch fingerlings for release into waters within the same drainage. This is a cooperative effort between the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Wind River Reservation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Population estimates in the Popo Agie River and Little Wind River have shown a dramatic decline in sauger numbers since 2002. Monitoring of Boysen Reservoir has shown a similar decrease in the sauger catch.

According to Game and Fish fisheries biologist Paul Gerrity, "poor spawning success and/or juvenile sauger survival are likely to blame for the decline."

Multiple research projects are underway to determine the causes contributing to low sauger recruitment. Overfishing is not thought to be contributing to the decline because a high percentage of the remaining fish are large, old fish. Cooperating agencies have decided not to propose more restrictive harvest regulations.

The stocking program will consist of capturing wild adult saugers and holding them in streamside tanks until they are ready to spawn. Once the fish are in spawning condition, biologists will spawn them and send the fertilized eggs to the Dan Speas Fish Hatchery and Rearing Station near Casper. Most eggs will hatch in 12 to 14 days. After hatching, sauger fry will be transported to Garrison National Fish Hatchery in North Dakota to be raised in ponds until they are fingerlings. The fingerling saugers will then be transported back to Wyoming and stocked into the Wind River drainage in July or August.

Most adult saugers spawn in the Popo Agie River and Little Wind River in May and June. The cooperating agencies hope that supplemental sauger stocking will occur annually in the Wind River Drainage through 2017. After 2017, the cooperating agencies hope numbers will be high enough to sustain the population and factors contributing to the decline will have been determined.

In the Bighorn drainage, the sauger population is doing well. Because sauger are doing so well, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks are working together to collect eggs to enhance the Big Horn Lake sport fishery.

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