Friends of the Upper Mississippi

Our Vision Statement

To work to protect, enhance and restore our Upper Mississippi River resources by serving as volunteers and partners with conservation organizations to provide education about these resources for our citizens, to advocate for government policies that will support these resources and to increase awareness of threats to the health of the Upper Mississippi River.

Genoa Fish Clinic

Genoa Fish Clinic – Genoa, WI

Mission of the Friends of the Upper Mississippi

  • Provide volunteer services to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other Conservation organizations for native species restoration and population monitoring.
  • Provide education programs for members and the general public on conservation issues and benefits
  • Provide grants for educational activities
  • Provide outdoor activities for children
  • Be a primary point of contact with local and national public officials in support of Mississippi River resources
  • Provide fundraising activities to support local conservation programs
  • Inform local groups and provide education on conservation issues

waterfowl waterfowl2The annual Waterfowl Observation Day, hosted by the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Upper Mississippi River Interpretive Association(UMRIA), and the Friends of the Upper Mississippi (FUM), will be held Saturday, November 8th at the Brownsville Overlook between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Visitors will be able to view migrating birds that have stopped to rest and feed along their journey to their wintering grounds.
Binoculars, spotting scopes, and bird identification guides will be available for visitors to use. Refuge staff, members of UMRIA, members of FUM, and volunteers will assist with bird identification, discuss the Pool 8 island restoration project, and answer related questions. Refreshments will be available during this event with all donations benefiting FUM. Members of UMRIA will have items available for purchase from the Prairie Wind Nature Store, featuring a new tundra swan ornament.
Brownsville Overlook is one of the best places along the river to view hundreds of tundra swans; diving and puddle ducks; bald eagles; and other birds. The overlook is located about three miles south of Brownsville, Minn., along Highway 26.
If you aren’t able to make the special event on November 8th, Refuge staff and volunteers will be available at Brownsville Overlook every Saturday and Sunday from October 25th – November 23rd between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to share information about migrating waterfowl and eagles. Please note that refreshments will only be available on November 8th.

For more information, contact the La Crosse District Office at (608) 779-2399

Senator Baldwin Visits Genoa NFH

By: Aaron von Esch
U.S. Senator Tammy Bald-win from Wisconsin visited Genoa NFH in early August as part of a tour of Wisconsin’s freshwater coasts. She was given a tour of the Mississippi River around Blackhawk Island where mussel biologists showed her an active native mussel bed exhibiting a few species of native mussels from the Mississippi River. She then received a brief life history on some of the native mussels found in this area. Her next stop was at the mobile aquatic rearing station (MARS) located at Blackhawk Park. There she was able to see a part of the hatchery’s mussel propagation efforts underway. In the trailer Sen. Baldwin was able to get a close up look at the endangered Higgins’ eye pearlymussel, along with snuffbox, winged mapleleaf, and sheepnose mussels. These mussels are raised in the MARS trailer which uses river water because of the rich source of food items conducive to freshwater mussels contained in the Upper Mississippi River water.

baldwin musselsSenator Baldwin checks out some Higgin’ eye

Next Sen. Baldwin visited the hatchery and received a tour of the sturgeon building which housed over 80,000 juvenile lake sturgeon. A life history of lake sturgeon and explanation of our propagation for restoration and recovery efforts of these fish followed. Sen. Baldwin also got to truly get a grasp on an ongoing restoration program by holding a semi-willing volunteer and feel the scutes (modified sharp scales used for protection) on these fish. She also toured the coaster brook trout building where she saw over 20,000 fingerling brook trout that will be kept on station and grown to 10 inches before being released on the Northern shore of Lake Superior.

Baldwin sturgeonAngela shows off this years’ class of sturgeon

Senator Baldwin was also briefed on plans for a new interpretive visitor center that is being planned at the hatchery. The Great River Road Interpretive Center will provide information to the public about the history, native species, and natural resources of the Mississippi River. The station was honored to host Senator Baldwin as she gathered information on ongoing federal conservation activities on the River, and in the State.

Let the Tagging Begin!!!!

By Orey Eckes
This year eggs were collected from lake sturgeon from four river populations: Wolf River, Wisconsin River, Rainy River and St. Lawrence River between the months of May-June. After a summer of intensive culture, lake sturgeon collected in the spring of the year reach lengths of 5-8 inches by August. Individual coded wire tags are inserted into the sturgeon to allow biologist to monitor growth and survival in the wild. In addition to being magnetic, each batch of tags has a unique identification number assigned according to where the fish will be stocked. If collected in the future, a metal detector is all that is needed to determine if a fish came from the hatchery.

tagging photo
As tagging begins hatchery staff relies heavily on partnerships between Friends Groups and volunteers to assist with tagging over 60 thousand sturgeon. The mission of the Friends Groups coincides with the Fish and Wildlife Service mission of conserving and protecting America’s Fish and Wildlife resources and their habitat for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Friends of Pool 8 and 9, as well as many other volunteers assisted with tagging, sample counting and checking tag retention for quality assurance. These tasks could not be accomplished without the help of friends groups and volunteers. The hatchery staff is appreciative of all our wonderful volunteers. Thank You for your hard work!!! By:

“If You Build it They Will Come”

 BY JORGE BUENING, GENOA NFHmusselA federally endangered Higgins’ eye pearlymussel. Credit: USFWS

In the case of the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) this famous line from the movie Field of Dreams (which was filmed in Iowa) should read that “if you stock them they will prosper”. At least that is the case for the federally endangered Higgins’ eye pearlymussel in the Iowa River.
As part of management plans developed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Minnesota DNR, and other organizations Higgins’ eye reintroduction has been possible. These plans target the goal of reintroducing the Higgins’ eye into waterways that were part of its’ historic range but are free from the threat of zebra mussels. This led to the stocking of mussel inoculated host fish into three of Iowa’s rivers: the Cedar, Iowa, and Wapsipinicon. Of these we have found Higgins’ eye in both the Iowa and Wapsipinicon. Now the mussels are old enough to be sexually mature and that is what we saw this year.

The annual Iowa DNR mussel blitz was held on the Iowa River near Iowa City during mid-August. During the blitz agency personnel and volunteers worked together to search for mussels at over 60 monitoring sites stretching over 20 river miles. During the blitz three adult Higgins’ eye were collected and they were brooding glochidia, basically ready to infest other host fish. If natural reproduction and recruitment can be established and carry the population into future generations, we will be able to say that our reintroduction efforts are a complete success. It has been through multiple stocking efforts and many hours of surveys that these observations are possible. Stories like these truly give us purpose and allow our dreams to take flight. Thanks to all our recovery partners for all the hard work.

Culturing the Sheepnose Mussel



Looking inside a sheepnose to see if it is gravid. Credit: USFWS
The sheepnose is a federally endangered freshwater mussel that Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) is working to propagate. While uncommon in the rest of its range in the Upper Mississippi River Basin; the sheepnose is fairly common in the lower Chippewa River. It is a conglutinate producer, which means that it produces packets that look like food particles to potential host fish. When the fish eat the particle they become infested and will potentially produce juvenile sheepnose.

The sheepnose is an interesting creature that offers some challenges to captive propagation. The first of these challenges is that their brooding window is very small. This is the time when the glochidia, which are baby mussels before they attach to a host fish, are available to infest host fish. In other mussels, this brooding period can last for several months. In the case of the sheepnose it lasts just over a week, generally around the Fourth of July. Another challenge is that the host fish the sheepnose uses is the golden shiner. This is a species that is not readily available at Genoa NFH right now. Until we have established a broodline at the hatchery, we are limited by the small numbers of golden shiners that we can certify and bring on station. Ultimately we are working toward establishing a large population of golden shiners on the station that will be used specifically for sheepnose production.

diversService employees and volunteers searching for sheepnose. Credit: USFWS
In July we were able to collect several gravid sheepnose and use their larvae to infest nearly 1,500 golden shiners which were placed in our mussel culture cages at one of our established mussel culture locations. By facing these challenges we learn more about fresh water mussel propagation and help to prepare ourselves for the future. By working to protect the sheepnose we also protect the places that it calls home. From the Chippewa River to the Mississippi River Basin everything is connected and it is our job to understand those connections. Here’s to a successful year of sheepnose production and ultimately improving our natural places.

Sturgeon Culture


sturgeon Lake sturgeon using the bottom of the tank. Credit USFWS

It is typical during the culture of fishes to make changes to rearing tanks and feed sizes as the fish grow. In the case of our cold-water culture, trout species are gradually given larger and larger tanks to occupy. Basically, larger fish require larger spaces. As trout grow they also progress through larger and larger feed pellets. A fish exerts more energy and effort eating many tiny pellets as opposed to a few larger pellets. The problem is…wasting energy can result in slower growth. This would not allow us to meet the management objectives that are set in place for our stocking locations. These principles also hold true for lake sturgeon culture, except to a much higher degree.

Lake sturgeon, a cool water species, are also given more space as they grow, just like the trout. However, this process is accelerated due to the niche that sturgeon occupies. It is a species that generally inhabits the bottom of the water column. No matter how much water is above them they have maximized the capabilities of a tank when the bottom of the tank is full. From a feed perspective they are very finicky compared to their cold-water counterparts. Currently, lake sturgeon require natural diets in order to be intensively cultured. Instead of transitioning from one size feed to the next, they transition onto a completely different diet.

When lake sturgeon first hatch they absorb their yolk sac for a few days and then begin actively searching out feed sources. Initially, lake sturgeon are planktivores and eat zooplankton. During this feeding stage we provide them with brine shrimp nauplii. As they continue to grow sturgeon begin to target larger invertebrates. We alter their feed regime and introduce ground bloodworms during this stage. Eventually, the sturgeon grow large enough to eat whole bloodworms and we are able to give our food processors and meat grinders a rest. Lastly, the sturgeon are transitioned onto krill, the same stuff that some whales eat. This protein rich crustacean allows the sturgeon to really grow and beef up before the fall stockings.

sturgeon1Live brine shrimp are raised to provide the first food for lake sturgeon. Credit: USFWS

The science and art behind fish culture is always changing. At Genoa National Fish Hatchery we strive for efficient and quality culture practices that result in meeting all of our stocking and production requirements. We hope these standards will lead to the stocking of tens of thousands of lake sturgeon and trout in the coming year.

Lake Sturgeon “Twice Tagged” at Genoa NFH

The time to shine has come for the last remaining lot of lake sturgeon at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH). It has been almost a year since this lot of Wolf River strain lake sturgeon arrived at Genoa and these fish were being held for a very special purpose. Their larger size made this lot ideal for studying retention of differing fishery tags. In order to get the fish tagged with both PIT tags and Coded Wire tags, many partners joined forces, including Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO), Green Bay FWCO, La Crosse FWCO, and staff from Genoa NFH. The objective of this study was to tag all the lake sturgeon with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and coded wire tags (CWT) for tag retention evaluation. Biological and tagging specific data for each fish was entered in a data file, so that later tag retention data can be associated with tag type, initial fish size, and tagging procedure/crew.

stugeonThis Lake sturgeon volunteered to be the next one tagged. Credit: USFWS

PIT tags are small glass capsules that encase a very small microchip that provides a unique serial number to each tagged fish. Once tagged the fish can be scanned with an electronic PIT tag reader, which display’s the serial number thus providing the fish-specific identification number. CWTs are small magnetic steel tags that are inserted in the sturgeon’s snout or underneath a scale (scute) and detected with handheld metal detectors known as wands. Generally PIT tags have come in one size (12mm) however a new smaller PIT tag (9mm) has been developed and may provide a new option for tagging of smaller fish. CWTs have been used to tag smaller size fish, however with the PIT tag an individual fish can be tracked and accounted for, as opposed to just identifying a single lot of fish as with CWTs. All fish were scheduled to be rechecked one month after tagging to get a good grasp on the tag retention of each tag type and size.

taggersTagging crew at Genoa NFH hard at work. Credit: USFWS

The staff at the Genoa NFH would like to thank the members of the FWCO offices, La Crosse Fish Health office, and members from the Menominee Tribe for cooperating in the tagging study.