BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Fishery crews have completed their annual salmon spawning operation in the Missouri River system.

Chinook salmon begin their spawning run in October — but because salmon cannot usually reproduce in the Peace Garden state, personnel with the ND Game and Fish Department need to take matters into their own hands when it comes to securing the state’s salmon population. After capturing the fish, department officials transport them to Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, where they are relieved of their eggs. However, fisheries supervisor Russ Kinzler notes that collecting eggs was far more of a challenge than they expected this year.

“The spawn started about a week later than normal,” he recalled in a press release, “and then the cold weather at the end of October shut down collections before the spawning crew could meet the goal of 1 million eggs.”

Despite falling slightly short of their goal, the Department managed to collect a total of 944,000 eggs — which should be more than enough to stock the 300,000 smolts planned for the lake in 2024. This year, all eggs were taken from Laka Sakakawea, unlike past years in which some were taken from salmon in the Missouri River. Typically, once the eggs hatch, young salmon spend about six months in the hatchery before being stocked.

The average size of a female salmon in the lake in 2023 was stated to be approximately 4.4 pounds, and the largest observed was 8.5.