By Louie Stout

When dealing with hatchery fish, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.

A lot of things can go wrong.

Like this year.

The Indiana Fisheries Division learned recently that Wisconsin will not be able to meet the 225,000 king salmon eggs it agreed to provide Hoosiers due to a hatchery issue.

Indiana will get 168,000 instead.

Wisconsin harvested enough green eggs to meet Indiana’s egg request but an unusually low number of viable eggs has resulted in shortages.

Several weeks after fertilization, the eyes of the salmon embryo become visible, signaling the egg is viable. At that point, the eggs are referred to as eyed eggs.

Unfortunately, by the time the poor eye-up issue was determined, it was too late to obtain more eggs from any source, because the Chinook spawning run had ended.

“It’s frustrating for us because we increased stocking quota and now are faced with shortage,” said Lake Michigan Biologist Ben Dickinson. “We’ll continue to roll with the punches that this unpredictable year has delivered. “We will make Indiana’s Lake Michigan fishery the best we can with the cards we’re dealt.”

That doesn’t mean Dickinson and Indiana’s hatchery crew has given up. There is still hope that other surrounding states may have a surplus that will be shared with Indiana to bring the southern end of the lake closer to its goal.

“Our state partners are aware of our shortage and may help, but they must take care of their own needs, first,” Dickinson said. “If they have excess, we’ll get them. We’ll find out in the next month or so.”

If there is a surplus, Indiana will get salmon fry or fingerlings instead of eggs.

Egg issues at hatcheries are not uncommon. Indiana has experienced similar problems with other species.

“We’ve had bad eye-up eggs with coho over the years and sometimes it happens with Skamania,” said Dickinson.

The Chinook eggs that Indiana did receive will be hatched at the Mixsawbah Fish Hatchery and raised until spring 2021, when fingerlings will be stocked. Those fish that survive will return to Hoosier streams in the fall of 2023 and 2024.