Walleye Spawning Rehabilitation Program

Walleye were once abundant in Eastern Georgian Bay, with well-known and thriving stocks that spawned at Moon River and Severn River (Port Severn). Anecdotal information tells us there were several additional Walleye spawning stocks in this portion of Georgian Bay. These include Walleye stocks that reportedly spawned at Go Home Bay, Musquash River, McCrae Lake outlet, Tadenac Lake outlet and Baxter Lake outlet. Other important tributaries for Walleye spawning along Eastern Georgian Bay included the Shebeshekong, Shawanaga, Magnetawan, Key and French Rivers.

Walleye populations in Eastern Georgian Bay are in decline. Overall, Walleye populations in Eastern Georgian Bay are below average when compared with Northern Ontario and slightly above average than Southern Ontario. Stressed Walleye populations include the Moon River, Magnetawan River, Musquash River and Severn Sound. Walleye populations in the Key River and Shebeshekong River have been identified as severely stressed. Genetic diversity of Walleye populations is higher in the North than in the South. Higher genetic diversity can help to improve resilience of a population to environmental changes. Use of Walleye spawning sites has also declined over time, and there are many factors that are contributing to the issue, including water levels, invasive species, warming temperatures and angling pressure. Despite the decline, the opportunity still exists to rehabilitate or re-establish these Walleye stocks.

EGBSC has focused on attempting to help restore Walleye populations through spawning bed rehabilitation and promotion of the following key components:

  • A sustainable quantity of water over the spawning beds throughout Walleye spawning and incubation
  • A suitable amount and quality of spawning habitat
  • A well balanced, productive and stable fish community and aquatic ecosystem
  • A Walleye harvest proportional to the productive capacity of the aquatic ecosystem

The EGBSC focus on Walleye rehabilitation aligns with the Fish Community Objectives for Lake Huron:

“Reestablish and/or maintain walleye as the dominant cool-water predator over its traditional range…walleye was the dominant nearshore predator in Lake Huron and it should resume this role” Stocks in “eastern Georgian Bay have suffered from environmental degradation or from over-fishing and require rehabilitation.”

Since 2007, EGBSC has restored four Walleye spawning beds and has a fifth project planned for 2015 on the Key River.

Tadenac Bay Spawning Bed Rehabilitation, 2007

In partnership with Tadenac Fishing Club and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), EGBSC carried out a Walleye spawning bed enhancement project in the Township of Georgian Bay. The enhancement site was situated where the Tadenac Lake outlet flows into Eastern Georgian Bay. The surrounding land was owned exclusively by the Tadenac Fishing Club. For the enhancement project, round, granite cobble was deposited at the site and granite boulders were randomly interspersed throughout the spawning site to deflect water current and provide resting or staging areas for spawning Walleye. Approximately 60 to 80 square metres of Walleye spawning habitat was enhanced, and Walleye fry were planted at the site to help rehabilitate the population.

The total project cost was $8,215. EGBSC successfully obtained $4,500 from the Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA) fund. The remaining funds were provided by the Tadenac Fishing Club ($1,857) and the EGBSC ($1,857). The EGBSC would like to thank the following partners of the project: Tadenac Fishing Club, Chantler Barging and COA.

Moon River Spawning Bed Rehabilitation, 2008

The Moon River Walleye fishery has a long history and its reputation as a trophy Walleye fishery is almost ‘legend’ amongst anglers in the Province of Ontario. For several decades the Walleye stock has dramatically declined. From 1968 to 1970, the Moon River Walleye spawning population was estimated at between 24,000 and 30,000 fish. This subsequently dropped to approximately 18,000 in 1971 and less than 13,000 in 1972. By 2004, the spawning population was estimated at approximately 4,800 and this was further reduced to its historic low of 1,200 by 2005. Potential contributors to the Walleye decline could be historical logging practices, water quality, stocking of non-indigenous Walleye, fishing pressures, changes in aquatic and terrestrial communities, scarcity of spawning habitat (despite historic spawning runs) and the Moon River flow regime.

The flow regime down the Moon River is highly irregular during the Walleye spawning and incubation period. This has undoubtedly contributed to reduced Walleye spawning success on the Moon River. Unlike the logging industry, impacts from water levels continue to impact Walleye populations. Existing spawning habitat on the Moon River is limited by size and quality, but it shows that it can support a large spawning population and support a remnant population over the long-term. However, spawning success would be greatly enhanced by increasing the area of optimal spawning habitat in suitable locations.

Partners of the Moon River restoration project developed the project over seven stages:

  1. Regulate flow regime during Walleye spawning and incubation to improve reproductive success (reduce peak spring flows, provide minimum flow)
  2. Enhancement of spawning habitat, situated within the Lower Moon River Conservation Reserve (C90)
  3. Carry out rehabilitative plantings of native Walleye for five years to boost reproduction (build spawning stock)
  4. Collaboration with First Nations
  5. Review appropriateness of current harvest controls (regulations) for both the sport and commercial fisheries.
  6. Increase enforcement effort (in response to poaching issues)
  7. Monitoring and assessment to measure spawning bed success and population dynamics

The Moon River Walleye spawning bed enhancement project began construction on September 24, 2008 and concluded on October 31st. Over 1100 metric tons of rock was imported for the enhancement project. On the south shore, multiple clusters of boulder were installed, and each cluster was topped with granite cobble, providing ideal substrate for spawning and incubation. On the north shore, one boulder cluster was installed and over 500 metric tonnes of granite cobble was deposited. The spawning beds were designed to be functional throughout the wide range of flows.

EGBSC partnered with OMNRF, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Georgian Bay Land Trust and Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve on this project. Construction was carried out by WS Morgan Construction Co. of Parry Sound, and partners in the project included Rieger Construction and Red Rock Barging. The project was funded by COA, Ontario Power Generation’s Evergreen Energy, OMNRF and several generous private donations.

Go Home Bay, 2009 and 2010

Walleye stocks used to spawn in Go Home Bay, at the Go Home Bay chutes in the Township of Georgian Bay. The size and quality of spawning habitat at Go Home Bay chutes is quite limited. Increasing the size and quality of spawning habitat will help to contribute to a healthy and self-sustaining Walleye population in Go Home Bay.

Seven steps were identified in order to complete the project. During the Walleye spawning assessment in 2009, no Walleye were captured or observed to be spawning at the chutes. Water level evaluations confirmed that there was sufficient water flow during Walleye spawning and incubation periods. A restoration design was drafted based on substrate type, depth and flow velocities.

Construction took place in October 2009. Sixty cubic meters of round, granite stone were strategically placed at the site. In addition, granite boulders were randomly placed throughout the finished spawning bed to act as water current deflectors. Because there had been no Walleye observed spawning at the chutes in 2009, EGBSC planted Walleye fingerlings at the site in 2010. 17,700 summer fingerlings were planted in Go Home Bay. In order to establish a self-sustaining spawning stock, EGBSC estimated that Walleye fingerlings would need to be stocked for three to four years following restoration of the chutes.

EGBSC would like to thank the following partners for this project: Cedar Brook Farms Hatchery, Terry Crawford and MNFR staff. Seventy-five percent of the project was funded through COA, and the remaining was funded by EGBSC’s Fisheries Rehabilitation Fund. This fund is wholly supported by donations from the general public and various partners. To all our donors we express a huge thank you!

Musquash River, 2011

There is a remnant Walleye population in the Musquash River of Eastern Georgian Bay, although the population once numbered in the “several hundreds”, according to anecdotal information. EGBSC developed a spawning restoration project to help rehabilitate this Walleye population, based on high quality and accessible spawning habitat.

The lower portion of the Musquash River has a series of three sets of rapids. Because of persistent low water levels, spawning Walleye seemed to be unable to bypass the first set of rapids and access spawning grounds further upstream. Spawning enhancement work was planned for the first set of rapids, so that Walleye could access spawning beds during low water levels.

EGBSC carried out Walleye surveys to track Walleye movement at the site. EGBSC captured five Walleye and implanted radio transmitters to see if Walleye were able to bypass the first set of rapids. All walleye were captured in the lowest reach of the Musquash River, below the first set of rapids. Four of the five tagged Walleye were re-located at the first set of rapids, and none of were located at the second and third set of rapids, suggesting that few, if any, Walleye can by-pass the first set of rapids. During the sampling, EGBSC captured 38 Walleye (two recaptures), 152 common White Sucker, two Redhorse Sucker, seven Northern Pike and five Rock Bass. Lake Sturgeon was noted at the site in May 2011.

In November, 2012, spawning bed construction was completed on the lower stretches of the Musquash River. In addition to Walleye, the spawning bed construction provided an opportunity to establish good quality Lake Sturgeon spawning habitat. A total of 800 metric tonnes of rock was barged in to complete the project. A portion of the river flow was redirected to flow over the newly constructed spawning area. Rock was spread in appropriate areas to create Walleye and Lake Sturgeon spawning habitat downstream of the redirected flow. Cobble was placed on an adjacent shoreline bank that was indicating signs of significant erosion, and it would also potentially provide spawning habitat during high Georgian Bay water level regimes. The spawning beds were designed to be functional at a range of water levels both in Georgian Bay and, to a certain extent, from the river.

Miigwech! Thank You to Our Sponsors!

Thank you to our partners, sponsors, and many individual donors for your support and investment in a healthy Georgian Bay!