Segueing off fish stockings: Mulling rogue to legal to audacious fish stockings

Mulling the idea of fish stockings from the rogue (illegal) to carefully planned to the audacious in 2020 and back into the past.

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One of the most intensely covered stockings in Chicago was the stocking of channel catfish into the Chicago River in 2014. Credit: Dale Bowman

One of the most intensely covered stockings in Chicago was the stocking of channel catfish into the Chicago River in 2014.

Dale Bowman

A few weeks ago, a reader wondered what fish species he should use in another stocking at the lagoon at Palmisano Park, that history-entangled Bridgeport park.

“I have throughout the years dumped in the following species: rock bass [about hand size], perch [six inches or up] and a couple of pumpkin blues [hand size; pumpkin seeds?],” he noted. “What other fish would you recommend for the pond? I have been thinking about getting some white bass and letting them go. There are plenty of crappie slabs in the pond!”

I pulled out my pompous-ass, I-support-science-at-all-costs beret — it has had quite a workout the last 10 months — and replied, “None is my recommendation. Biologists/managers carefully calculate what species and how many to put in. Rogue stockings knock such planning askew.”

That is true.

But it’s also true that I have done a few rogue stockings of my own over the years, especially when younger.

Early in my marriage, we lived at my wife’s family homestead when developers built affordable housing on the edges of Will County. Unfortunately, some jackass developers were not intent on spending money and time to dig retention ponds deep enough to prevent winter kills. So I occasionally assisted with stocking the couple of ponds nearest the house.

I don’t know if they helped or not. Yes, I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.

A historic photo of Howard Tanner helping with the first stocking in 1966 of the non-native coho into Lake Michigan in an audacious attempt to control alewives. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A historic photo of Howard Tanner helping with the first stocking in 1966 of the non-native coho into Lake Michigan in an audacious attempt to control alewives.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Reality is that even legal stockings are meddling with Mother Nature, no matter how well thought out. The most storied stocking in the United States is Howard Tanner’s audacious idea to stock the non-native coho, then Chinook, salmon into Lake Michigan to control invasive alewives.

It worked, absurdly well.

Then you have the rogue, read illegal, stockings of walleye into southern Lake Michigan.

When I found out about them, I suggested to my Chicago Sun-Times editor years ago that it would be a great column to tag along on such a rogue stocking on the Chicago lakefront. After the brass pondered, they deep-sixed it.

I don’t know if those stockings are related to the sporadic catches of walleye on the lakefront, but the rebel in me thinks so.

On the other hand, you have Perch America’s walleye stocking on the Indiana side of Wolf Lake, done with strict Indiana oversight and approval. This year marked the 21st year in 22 of the greatest citizens’ stocking effort in the Chicago area.

The most enduring citizens’ stocking effort is by Perch America for 21 years of walleye advanced growth fingerlings into Wolf Lake; here is the 20th stocking in 2019 with Vince Johnson (left) and Bruce Caruso. Credit: Dale Bowman

The most enduring citizens’ stocking effort is by Perch America for 21 years of walleye advanced growth fingerlings into Wolf Lake; here is the 20th stocking in 2019 with Vince Johnson (left) and Bruce Caruso.

Dale Bowman

With the pandemic, I wasn’t sure what to expect in stockings by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, but the hatchery workers were deemed essential, and nearly all of the planned stockings went on.

On a related matter, with the great spike in fishing effort during the pandemic, some of it for food, I wondered if the state would need to alter its stocking regimen.

“You are certainly aware of our normal annual sampling efforts to evaluate fish populations at waters throughout the state,” fisheries chief Mike McClelland emailed. “With that in mind, field staff will be evaluating data from those population surveys over the winter and would be able to assess needs for increased stocking. I would not anticipate stocking changes due to increased fishing, but we will have to see what the data tells us. Current site-specific regulations are in place to protect a given water; this should help ease the burden of the potential increased pressure.”

Chicago waterways have had some odd stockings. Most notable were stockings of channel catfish in the Chicago River, to much media hubbub downtown, and the Calumet system. Those catfish appear to be bolstering fishing, particularly downtown.

In 2015, the Illinois hatcheries had extra northern pike, and there was a stocking into the North Shore Channel. On those, I have not heard as much from anglers.

My aim for 2021 is to exchange my tattered pompous-ass, I-support-science-at-all-costs beret with a simple I-support-science beanie.

Friends of the Chicago River executive director Margaret Frisbie models one of the northern pike stocked into the North Shore Channel in 2015. Credit: Dale Bowman

Friends of the Chicago River executive director Margaret Frisbie models one of the northern pike stocked into the North Shore Channel in 2015.

Dale Bowman

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