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

“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.

Interpretive Center Construction Begins in Earnest

visitor center
April means not only the lifting of road weight restrictions in most of Wisconsin, but it also means the beginning of construction season for much of the northland. At the Genoa National Fish Hatchery it also means years of planning are coming to fruition with the construction of the Great River Road Interpretive Center at the hatchery site. The Great River Road Interpretive Center is one of a series of visitor contact centers for travelers that use the National Scenic Byway that bisects the hatchery, State Highway 35. The Wisconsin Great River Roadis a 250 mile drive winding through 33 river towns and is Wisconsin’s only designated National Scenic Byway. The road runs along the Mississippi River through some of Wisconsin’s oldest and most historic communities. The scenery features stunning bluffs with scenic overlooks, a variety of wildlife, and beautiful countryside along the river. The hatchery received a grant in 2010 through the National Scenic Byways Program to build a visitor contact center that would interpret the intrinsic value of the Upper Mississippi River. The center will focus on the history of conservation in the Region, and discuss the River’s value from prehistoric time to the present. The center will also have an exhibit on the battle of Bad Axe, the last conflict east of the Mississippi River between Native Americans, and the United States Army. Groundbreaking for the Center began this April with Pangea Group from St. Louis, Missouri acquiring the bid. A local company, St. Joseph Construction has begun moving dirt and installing retaining walls in preparation for the actual building construction. Projected building completion is estimated to be the fall of 2015, with hopes of a grand opening ceremony in the spring of 2016.

Spring in the Air & Nets in the Water

Spring was a little slow to show up this year, staff from Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) usually start setting nets in the Mississippi River in the middle to late March, but water and air temperatures pushed things back until April 7th. The continual rise and fall of the temperature and rising and falling water levels stretched the spawning season out for the whole month of April.
Hatchery staff returned from setting up the sturgeon trailer in Michigan to hop in the boat and set out the walleye nets. During the spring netting, eggs are collected from walleye to support not only the fish culture programs but also for the mussel program.
Walleye are the host fish for black sandshell mussels, an endangered or species of concern for several states. Walleye eggs are also sent to state partners for their restoration programs, this year Genoa was able to ship out 10 million eggs to New Mexico and two million eggs to DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska. Walleye fry are sent to the Menominee Indian Tribe to be stocked in their ponds to grow out and then stocked out in the fall. During the spring netting, Genoa NFH also helps out the La Crosse Fish Health Office by collecting wild fish from the Mississippi River for the National Wild Fish Health Survey. The Fish and Wildlife Service continually samples waters throughout the country to monitor the health of fish populations, for more information you can visit the website:

“Spring has Finally Sprung” at Genoa NFH’s Outdoor Classroom

This year especially, it seems that winter was very reluctant to loosen its frozen grip on the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH). Inevitably winter relented and we were rewarded with walleye and
sturgeon to spawn, fish to distribute, and visits from our area outdoor classroom participants.
The season started off with a visit from the 5th graders of Summit Environmental School. During their visit these students received a tour of the hatchery that highlighted the spring activities that
the hatchery was involved with, including spawning and pond setup. While here they also worked on cleaning out last year’s growth from our butterfly garden and planting some early vegetables. Along with that activity they planted the initial plants in our new prairie garden alongside our archery range. All of these plantings were done with the assistance ofthe La Crosse Garden Club, who were equally ready to start some spring plantings. Next, the 7th and 8th graders from Lincoln Middle School made a visit. These students were divided into four groups that rotated through four stations. These stations consisted of an outdoor reading station, a frog call station, a bird call station, and a fish and freshwater mussel station. Students received lessons on the subject matter in class and then they tried out their newly found knowledge in our wetland and prairie habitat zones. Even though spring had sprung, poor weather conditions postponed the hatchery visit with Southern Bluffs Elementary. So we just made a trip to Southern Bluffs Elementary School. During this classroom visit students learned about freshwater mussels.


The students learned how we remove glochidia (larval mussels) from freshwater mussels and saw what they look like before attaching to a host fish under a microscope. The students then witnessed the fish become infested with freshwater mussels.
Again this spring has given us an opportunity to share what we do with the younger generations. We hopefully have conveyed the importance of maintaining a healthy environment and learning about the world around us. Some of these young people held their first freshwater mussel, others heard their first red-winged blackbird, and still others planted their first plant. All of these experiences preserve conservation in the minds of our youth and galvanize the mind-set to carry them on for future generations.