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Walleye is a freshwater fish native to lakes and streams throughout the northern midwestern United States, and Canada that is extremely popular with sport fishermen. Most commercial supplies of walleye come from Lake Erie, Lake Winnipeg, Lake of the Woods, and other large Canadian lakes. In the United States, commercial fisheries are prohibited in the Great Lakes in order to protect recreational walleye fisheries, however, there is a small commercial fishery in Red Lake, Minnesota. Buyers regard walleye as one of the best-tasting freshwater fish due to its sweet, mild flavor. Because walleye has naturally opaque eyes, it’s best to judge its freshness based on the flesh and skin.
Health & Nutrition
- Total Fat1.04g
Recommended Servings per Month
- Kids 6-121
- Kids 0-51
Walleye have a slender, torpedo-shaped body that ranges in color from yellow-gold to dark olive-brown with brassy flecks on its side and a milky-white belly. They have five or more dark bands on their sides that extend upward and a white spot on their tail. Walleye have a large mouth with many sharp teeth. Walleye are named for their large, clouded eyes that point outward, which are specially adapted to low-light conditions, making them highly successful nighttime predators. Walleye can grow to be 2.5 to 3 feet in length and weigh up to 20 pounds, though the typical market size is 1-5 pounds.
Walleye reach sexual maturity between 3-5 years of age. They spawn in the late winter and early spring when waters are 42-50 degrees Fahrenheit. They spawn over rock or rubble in rivers or other shallow waters. Females can deposit over 100,000 eggs. Neither parent carries or guards the eggs in any way after spawning.
Young walleye feed on invertebrates such as fly larvae and zooplankton, but will begin to eat fish after just 1-2 months. At that point, walleye will feed on yellow perch, crayfish, minnows, and leeches.
Walleye are cool-water fish that prefer deep, quiet waters of lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. They are native to Canada, the Great Lakes, and the Missouri River basin, and are commonly stocked in these regions due to their popularity with sport fishermen.
US Fish & Wildlife Service | Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Management of walleye populations are complex due to fisheries being located in the Great Lakes, which are managed by both the US and Canada, and inland waterways within state jurisdictions of the U.S. and Canadian provinces.
As the Great Lakes encompass two countries, multiple states, one province, and a number of tribal lands, the management of walleye is complex. To address coordination and shared management of the resource, the United States and Canadian governments formed the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) in 1954. The GLFC consists of four Canadian and four American commissioners who are appointed by their governments and supported by a secretariat in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1981, the GLFC enacted the non-binding Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries that has been subsequently reviewed in 1986 and last amended in 1997 in an effort to better coordinate fishery and environmental management issues in the Great Lakes.
Within the GLFC, each Great Lake has its own Lake Committee that is made up of state, provincial, and tribal representatives of the actual fishery management bodies for that lake (with additional support by various federal agencies). The GLFC and Lake Committees are not responsible for day-to-day fishery management, but rather serve as a platform to bring together multiple agencies involved in Great Lakes fisheries to better coordinate research, enforcement, stocking, quotas, and to address other fishery issues. Lake Committees were first established by the GLFC in 1965 as the mechanism for individual agencies to share information; however, it was only after the 1981 Joint Strategic Plan that these Committees became tasked with establishing fishery management goals (called Fish Community Objectives) for each lake and to set agreed-upon yearly harvest levels. They also produce a “state-of-the-lake” report every five years to summarize fishery trends and status. Lake Committees are supported by Technical Committees, which conduct stock assessments and collect fishery data, interpret science, and then make management recommendations to the Lake Committee. Any management objectives that the Lake Committees agree-upon are implemented and managed by the individual state, provincial, or tribal agencies – usually by that state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNRs). These agencies are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day management of the fishery and are responsible for issuing fishing licenses, determining harvest levels, as well as for carrying out other management actions such as establishing size, gear, and area restrictions. DNRs, as well as federal agencies like the US Coast Guard, carry out on-water and on-dock inspections and enforce management measures.
In the United States, commercial fisheries are prohibited in the Great Lakes in order to protect recreational walleye fisheries, however, there is a small commercial fishery in Red Lake, Minnesota.
Red Lakes (Minnesota):
The walleye fishery in the Red Lakes is managed jointly by the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Program, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR), and the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The Red Lake Fisheries Program was started in 1987 and is the responsible party for the management and conservation of fish in Chippewa Indian Reservation waters of the Upper and Lower Red Lakes. When the walleye population in the Red Lakes collapsed in the 1990s, commercial fishing was suspended and a recovery plan was put in place. The recovery plan included fry stocking, strong enforcement of the fishing ban, and a data collection program to track the health of the walleye population. The recovery plan was highly successful and the fishery was reopened in 2006, which was much earlier than anticipated. When the fishery reopened in 2006, a Harvest Plan was adopted. This Harvest Plan was recently revised in 2015. The goal of the Harvest Plan is to define safe fishing levels that will maintain the spawning population at optimal levels and facilitate the long-term maintenance of the walleye population.
Fishing in Reservation waters of the Red Lakes is open to Band members only. Of the annual catch limit for Band waters, 90% is allocated to the commercial fishery, while the rest is left for personal use. The Red Lakes Fisheries Program regulates fishing by setting gear, size, and daily bag limit restrictions. Regulations change yearly for the commercial fishery, but currently, there is a daily limit of 100 walleye, and only walleye between 14 and 22 inches may be retained.
Recently, regulations were relaxed in both Reservation and state waters because of the healthy abundance of the walleye population.
The fishery for Lake Manitoba walleye and sauger is managed with a cumulative quota of 907,200 kg, a seasonal closure that closes the fishery from March 16 until ice or November 1 and thus closes the fishery during walleye spawning, and a minimum mesh size of 95 mm. Annual monitoring occurs, and estimates of maximum sustainable yield are available for walleye (but not for other species in the fishery). Management strategy and implementation are scored "ineffective" by Seafood Watch due to the lack of references against which to assess abundance indices and the lack of an obvious mechanism for adjusting allowable walleye catches downward in times of declining abundance.
Impact on Stock
Walleye populations across the Great Lakes and in the Red Lakes of Minnesota are abundant or in recovery due to strict fishing quotas and effective management. In Canada’s Lake Manitoba, data is lacking on stock size and the impacts of commercial and recreational fishing on the walleye population.
In the Great Lakes walleye fisheries, fishing practices and gear types have little impact on the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem, and rigorous scientific studies are completed to ensure ecosystem-based fisheries management practices are informed by strong scientific data, and there are similar findings for Minnesota’s Red Lake walleye fishery.
There is moderate concern over the habitat impacts of Canada’s Lake Manitoba walleye fishery due to apparent lack of scientific or management effort to evaluate and account for the ecological effects of the fisheries.
Generally, the impacts of bycatch in Great Lakes walleye fisheries are considered low due to the placement of gear and size restrictions on it. Lake sturgeon landings are prohibited because of their status as endangered or threatened in the Great Lakes. Although some do get caught unintentionally in gillnets used to target lake whitefish, scientists and fishermen found that most are returned to the water alive so there is no significant impact. Lake trout are also threatened and cannot be sold portside, but the amount of this bycatch in the walleye fishery overall is low.
Bycatch in the Red Lakes walleye fishery is reported to be low, and no overfished, endangered, threatened, or species of concern are captured.
In Lake Manitoba, there is little transparency around the levels of bycatch, and how any data collected on bycatch influences management decisions. For some target and bycatch species, a primary concern is the apparent lack of a mechanism by which management addresses potentially widespread discarding.
The management effectiveness of walleye fisheries varies between locations. The management of the Great Lakes fisheries, which is managed by the binational Great Lakes Fisheries Commission of the U.S. and Canada, has been rated as moderately effective by Seafood Watch, while the management of the Red Lakes fishery in Minnesota has been rated highly effective, and the management of the Lake Manitoba fishery in Canada is ineffective.
|Origin||Harvest Method||Sustainability Ratings|
|Canada - Lake Erie||Bottom Gillnet|
|Canada - Lake Erie (MSC)||Gillnet|
|Canada - Lake Huron||Trap Net|
|Canada - Lake Huron||Bottom Gillnet|
|Canada - Lake Manitoba||Midwater Gillnet|
|Canada - Lake of the Woods||Bottom Gillnet|
|Canada - Lake Ontario||Bottom Gillnet|
|Canada - Lake Ontario||Trap Net|
|Canada - Lake Superior||Bottom Gillnet|
|Canada - Lake Winnipeg||Midwater Gillnet|
|Canada - Lake Winnipegosis||Midwater Gillnet|
|Canada - Waterhen Lake (MSC)||Gillnet|
|Unassessed Origin||Unassessed Fishing Methods|
|USA - Lake Huron||Bottom Gillnet|
|USA - Lake Huron||Trap Net|
|USA - Lake Michigan||Bottom Gillnet|
|USA - Lake Michigan||Trap Net|
|USA - Lake Superior (Michigan)||Bottom Gillnet|
|USA - Lake Superior (Michigan)||Trap Net|
|USA - Lake Superior (Wisconsin)||Bottom Gillnet|
|USA - Minnesota||Bottom Gillnet|
|USA - Minnesota||Handlines and Hand-Operated Pole-and-Lines|
|Allseas Fisheries Corp.||Canada||Ontario|
|Blue Ribbon Meats||United States||Ohio|
|Catanese Classic Seafood||United States||Ohio|
|Caudle's Catch Seafood||Canada||Ontario|
|Codfathers Seafood Market||Canada||British Columbia|
|Euclid Fish Company||United States||Ohio|
|Intercity Packers Meat & Seafood||Canada||British Columbia|
|John Nagle Co.||United States||Massachusetts|
|Macgregors Meat & Seafood Ltd.||Canada||Ontario|
|Mackinac Straits Fish Company||United States||Michigan|
|Profish Ltd.||United States||District of Columbia|
|Red Lake Nation Fishery||United States||Minnesota|
|Sammy's Seafood Inc||United States||Florida|
|Seattle Fish Company||United States||Colorado|
|Seattle Fish Company - Kansas City||United States||Missouri|
|The Fish Guys Inc.||United States||Minnesota|
|The Fresh Lake Whitefish Company||United States||Michigan|
- Environmental Defense Fund