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

Encouraging results for a new mussel culture strategy at Genoa NFH

musselsRecent changes in how we run the mussel cage culture operation at Genoa NFH has dramatically increased the number of sub-adult mussels that need to be held in the lab over winter. Over the last two winters these sub-adult mussels have been placed in a flow through system that utilizes pond water from the hatchery. This system has been quite effective, yielding 90 – 95 % survival in animals from fall to spring distribution. The drawback to the system is that the animals will not grow in the cold winter temperatures, and the increase in numbers has us needing additional room. This winter we initiated a trial using our mucket buckets, a recirculating downweller system that is normally used for new juveniles, to grow some of our smaller sub-adults to larger sizes and spread out the culture load. Both fatmucket and Higgins’ eye were placed in a mucket bucket and both growth and survival were monitored. Seven hundred animals were stocked in the chambers (500 Higgins’ eye, 200 fatmucket). The 60 day experiment concluded at the end of February. For this initial trial sub-adult survival was acceptable, but lower than anticipated (Higgins’ eye 85.4%, fatmucket 76.0%). Growth of individuals is where results were particularly interesting. Higgins’ eye grew 51.1% while fatmucket grew 66.7%. This short term study indicates that below average size sub-adult mussels can be caught up to the larger individuals in their cohort by utilizing this method over winter. Additional trials are planned to determine optimal feed rates and temperatures in an effort to improve survival. By taking advantage of existing technology in new ways the mussel restoration program at Genoa NFH can continue to grow and expand. By: Nathan Eckert

Genoa NFH Mussel Biologist Wins Prestigious Science Award


Nathan Eckert, Mussel Propagation Biologist at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery was award-ed the 2014 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence from Service Director Dan Ashe. Considered one of the highest honorary awards in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the award recognized Nathan for pursuit of applied conservation science methods that has led to extraordinary results in fish and wildlife conservation. Nathan has dedicated his professional career to the conservation of freshwater mussels. The extraordinary results of his work include mussel culture techniques that allow for the mass production of young mussels. With Nathan’s help, Genoa National Fish Hatchery has produced 14.7 million mussels spanning 17 species. He has also successfully grown fawnsfoot and pistolgrip mussels, previously never cultured by the Service. Additionally, Nathan has published a host study for the cylindrical papershell, an Iowa state listed species, which identifies new hosts for future propagation efforts. His expertise is also being used by researchers at the Up-per Midwest Environmental Science Center who are looking for ways to kill invasive zebra mussels and Asian carp without harming native mussel populations. “The fact that I’ve been selected for an award named after Rachel Carson, a pioneer in this field, is very humbling,” said Eckert in response to receiving the award. “If anything, I feel like this recognition means that now I need to do exceptional work and prove that the accolades were deserved.” A champion for mussel research and recovery, Nathan’s work focuses on a commonly over-looked group of animals. Well hidden in rivers and streambeds, mussels are silently falling prey to pollution and invasive animals. More than half of the Midwest Region’s 78 mussel species are in danger of extinction. An example of the profound impact an individual can have on conservation efforts, his work has directly resulted in the release of more than 50,000 threatened or endangered mussels into waterways in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Nathan’s enthusiasm for mussel research is matched by his commitment to working with partners. He commonly coordinates recovery efforts with federal, state and local partners. Considered an expert in his field when it comes to mussel identification, propagation biology and freshwater mussel life history, he serves as a valuable resource for his colleagues. The Genoa hatchery congratulates Nathan on his award and looks forward to the future scientific achievements of him and all of our staff! By: Doug Aloisi & Katie Steiger-Meister

Recovery/Assessment Begins After Train Derailment

DUBUQUE – A clean-up is slated to begin on Thursday (February 5) to recover ethanol on land and on the iced-covered surface of the Mississippi River following a train derailment that occurred Wednesday (February 4) north of Dubuque. There was a fire associated with the derailment on Wednesday, but it has burned out. There are three of the rail tankers in the water and a total of eight of the cars lost at least some ethanol. It is believed that one may have still have been leaking as of Thursday afternoon. Water sampling has also begun. The initial plan calls for the river to be sampled along the east side, the west side and in the middle, every 6,000 feet downstream from where the derailment occurred for approximately 10 miles.



Additional water samples will be taken from 1,000 feet upstream from the incident site, as well as sampling from Mud Lake on the Iowa side of the river and Sunfish Lake on the Wisconsin side of the river. The water will be sampled for dissolved oxygen, ethanol and for petroleum products. The primary concern associated with the spill is the threat to fish and other aquatic life. Ethanol in the water depletes oxygen. There are concerns about the potential impact to mussel beds along the river in the area where the spill occurred because mussels do not have the ability to easily move away when oxygen levels begin to sag. The segment of the river that has been impacted is within the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to sample fish collected from fishermen to sample for any potential contaminants and ensure that fish caught from the river are safe to eat. Open water holes near the tips of wing dams and near the lock and dam will be monitored for signs of dead fish since significant portions of the river are currently iced over preventing fish mortality from being readily observed. Offloading what is left in the derailed tank cars was scheduled to begin Thursday afternoon. Once the remaining material can be offloaded and accounted for, estimates of how much ethanol may have reached the river can be made. There is approximately one-half of an acre of ethanol that pooled on the ground and froze on the land side of the track where the derailment occurred. It is estimated that approximately one acre of ice near the spill was covered. The plan is to use a stream sprayer to thaw the ethanol on the land side of the tracks and then vacuum the product into a tank. If the technique is successful, a similar attempt will be made on the ice to recover the ethanol there.

Assisting in response to the incident have been the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Dubuque County Conservation Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Sherrill Fire Department, the Dubuque Fire Department, the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

** This informational bulletin was released 5 Feb 2015 by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Services Division.
Railroad Settles Upper Mississippi River Oil Spill Claim
IOWA CITY, IOWA (AP) — A railroad has agreed to pay $625,000 to settle allegations that it failed to adequately clean up a 2008 oil spill that damaged the shoreline and aquatic life in the Mississippi River between Iowa and Wisconsin. The Dakota Minnesota and Eastern Railroad, a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific, would make the payment without admitting wrongdoing to resolve a civil complaint filed Tuesday by the state of Iowa and the U.S. government. The settlement, known as a consent decree, would cover the cost of assessing damage and pay for restoration activities. It’s expected to go into effect after a 30-day public comment period.


The case stems from a derailment that happened July 9, 2008, when a boulder dislodged by heavy rains tore up a section of the track on the river near Guttenberg, Iowa. Four diesel locomotives crashed into the river and were submerged and leaked oil for several days. Two workers suffered minor injuries. The complaint alleges that those engines leaked 4,400 gallons of diesel oil and other petroleum products, causing floating slicks of oil and oil sheen along a 10-mile stretch. The area of the river, known as the Bluff Slough, is across from Cassville, Wisconsin.
Few birds or fish died, but other slower-moving aquatic life that lived in or near shore habitats were affected by the floating oil. The spill, which came as the river was at flood stage, resulted in the loss of mussels that are considered endangered and threatened species and damage to mayflies, a rare mudpuppy and a water snake, the complaint says. Much of the oil on the shoreline wasn’t cleaned up, while some of it stuck to sediments that flowed downstream in the high and turbulent waters, the complaint said. Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesman Kevin Baskins said the restoration work will include re-establishing mussel beds

that were disturbed when the company built a platform to remove the locomotives. A damaged parking lot also will be repaired. “We’re glad to have the opportunity to restore a sensitive area of the river,” he said. “Anytime we can make an effort to increase mussel survival and production, it’s something that’s real positive for the ecosystem as a whole.”
After the derailment, state officials worried that the railroad took too long to remove the engines from the river and to respond to the environmental threat they posed. Workers deployed booms to contain the discharged oil, used pads to absorb floating oil, removed oiled vegetation and eventually re-railed the locomotives and grain cars, the complaint said. However, the response “was not able to remediate the entire area affected by the discharge incident” and didn’t address oil that sank in the river. The complaint alleged a violation of the Oil Pollution Act. Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings called the derailment an “unusual incident,” saying the company is pleased to have the complaint resolved. The consent decree says the payment would avoid complicated litigation and expedite restoration work. Government lawyers can withdraw the settlement if public comments “disclose facts or considerations” that show it to be inadequate. Wally Taylor, a Cedar Rapids environmental attorney, said he will consider filing a comment on behalf of the Sierra Club. “It sounds like it’s not nearly enough,” he said of the settlement. “I suspect the company probably resisted pretty strongly but that the government didn’t want to really take them to court.?

*** Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press;
originally published 10 Dec 2014.
What Others Say …

Train derailment near Guttenberg, IA -July 2008

The lyrics of a song made popular in the 1960s by the Shirelles state ?There’ll be days like this.? However, after almost three decades with the Service and the last two spent at the La Crosse FWCO, I’d never had a day like 9 February 2015 before. Yes, I’d previously handled large volumes of river sediment … at times requiring chain-of custody protocols … but never in the form of frozen slabs requiring a fork lift to safely move them!
Recovered by vigilant Iowa Department of Natural Resources employees at a derailment site near Dubuque (page 4), five slabs of frozen river sediments containing mussels impacted (literally) by rail cars were brought to our heated garage where the dimensions of each icy slab were measured and recorded.
Days later, mussel biologist Nathan Eckert (Genoa National Fish Hatchery) led a team of biologists and railway agents who sieved and meticulously inspected the sediments like forensic scientists to identify/enumerate fresh-dead mussels and remnant shells. A total of 19 fresh-dead mussels (representing six species) were recovered in these efforts and 23 species were identified from relic shells. Based on these data, slab dimensions, and estimates of the mussel-bed area impacted by the rail cars and recovery operations, natural resource agencies are likely seek just compensation for the loss of these and other impacted trust resources.
Days like these we can do without; but we’re prepared for them.

By Mark Steingraeber

Passing Down the “ART” of Fish Culture one Mesh at a Time

By: Orey Eckes

As spring rapidly approaches the hatchery staff is busy putting final touches on maintenance of equipment and buildings to prepare for the spring spawning season. In the months of April and May the staff is on the Mississippi River daily collecting walleye eggs for a myriad of stocking requests. Walleye eggs collected for Genoa Fish Hatchery will be hatched and reared throughout the summer in grow out ponds until reaching 6-8 inches in length. These fish will eventually be used as hosts for freshwater mussel propagation, in an effort to enhance populations of black sandshell mussels. In addition, eggs and fry are shipped to federal, state and tribal partnerships for restoration. In preparation for walleye spawning nets must be cleaned and repaired for any damage that occurred the previous season. As a younger generation of biologists, it is essential to learn the “ART” of fish culture in addition to the biology. Over the years maintenance mechanic, Jeff Lockington has mastered the art of repairing hoop nets and is passing his experience to younger generations of fish biologists at Genoa. Having nets in proper working order is essential for maximizing walleye harvest during the spring spawning season. Passing this art down ensures that these essential techniques are taught to the next generation of biologist. As many of my colleagues can agree, fish culture is both an “Art” and a “Science.”


Aaron takes a turn patching nets

Dragonflies set to arrive at Genoa NFH in 2015!

By: Angela Baran
In February of 2013, staff from Genoa National Fish Hatchery traveled to Vermillion, SD to meet with students and faculty from the University of South Dakota studying the Hines Emerald Dragonfly.
The hatchery was contacted by the Green Bay and Chicago Ecological Services Field Offices to see if it would be possible to transfer small scale laboratory based propagation to a larger production scale. The Hines Emerald Dragonfly was placed on the Federal Endangered Species list in 1995. The primary reason for the species decline is loss of habitat due to urban development. The historic range for the dragonfly was Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin. It has been extirpated from Alabama, Ohio and Indiana. Habitat restoration efforts are underway in several locations and with the culture methods being developed, there is great hope for this species to stabilize and re-establish in historic ranges. This small step two years ago led to a search for funding to begin working with this new species at Genoa NFH. In the fall of 2013, hatchery staff began working with USD and the Chicago Ecological Services Office on a proposal for the Cooperative Recovery Initiative. This initiative provides funding for projects working with threatened or endangered species on or near refuge lands. The fish hatchery is in a unique situation, being located within the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, allowing the opportunity to apply for the funding. Genoa NFH seems to be an almost ideal setting for possible dragonfly culture with access to the hatchery’s natural wetland and the multiple food sources utilized by the many species cultured at the hatchery.
A proposal was submitted in 2013, requesting funding for a mobile rearing unit, cage construction and additional staff for the hatchery to begin culturing the Hines Emerald Dragonfly as well as funding for a coordinator position at the Chicago ES Office and for USD to perform collection efforts and genetic sampling. The proposal made it to the final steps of the process but other projects were selected for 2014. The hatchery, the Chicago ES office and USD worked on the proposal again in the fall of 2014 and submitted a re-vised proposal. In early February 2015, the group received word that the proposal was selected and work will begin in the spring/summer of 2015! Stay tuned for updates on the construction of the trailer and cages and for the arrival of the Hines Emerald Dragon-fly larvae at Genoa NFH.

Friends Host Kids Ice Fishing Event at the Genoa Hatchery

By: Doug Aloisi

fish crowd
2015’s annual Kids Ice Fishing Day held on February 6th was great fun in spite of this year’s arctic weather blast in the upper Midwest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 3 La-Crosse area fisheries offices again hosted a Kids Ice Fishing event with the help of our Friends Group, the Friends of the Upper Mississippi. The event, which had humble beginnings back when it was held at Goose Island Park just south of La Crosse Wisconsin, is now a highly anticipated winter event. Over 450 people arrived at the station on the 15th to learn more about ice fishing, and have an opportunity to fish a stocked pond for rainbow trout at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. 250 kids from ages 5-12 and their parents, some who had never been ice fishing before were given a short primer on ice fishing and ice safety by Eric Leiss, (fish biologist and ice fishing expert from the La Crosse Fish Health Center)then had an opportunity to fish for the rest of the morning on Pond 11. The children and their parents were then fed a light lunch provided by our Friends Group and sent home happy. Some children even caught their first fish through the ice. A warming tent with coffee and cocoa was available for a quick warm up, even though it was a warm day for Wisconsin, with highs all the way up to the mid 20’s! A lot of carryover 2 year old rainbows were very receptive to the young anglers, with many going home with their limit of 5 fish per child. Many thanks go to our volunteers, the Friends Group, and the Genoa staff and staff from the 3 LaCrosse area fisheries offices to get kids and their parents outside to enjoy all nature has to offer, even in the midst of winter.

kid with fishyoung angler

Kids Ice Fishing Derby

By Jorge Buening


The fun starts at 8:30 for our annual kids Ice Fishing Clinic. Be sure to take the stairs when switching ponds: As we roll further into winter there are two emotional paths for us to take. One is to get sad and depressed knowing that there are still months of cold snowy weather ahead. The other is to get all amped up for the exciting winter activities that we can partake in. A few of these include snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and most importantly ice fishing. As a fish hatchery we view ice fishing as important, and we host an annual ice fishing clinic for area children. This event is currently scheduled for Saturday February 7, 2015 and preparation has already begun. Generally our ice fishing clinic utilizes two ponds, the first is filled with water and stocked with about 5,000 9 – 14 inch rainbow trout which naturally freezes over and becomes our fishing pond. One of the ponds adjacent to the fishing pond is then drained and used to house our instructional/warming/lunch tent. This all works great until we want to safely transition people from one pond to the other. This process is obstructed by a steep snowy pond wall, until now. Genoa biologist Jorge Buening approached volunteers Ron Walley and Don Schroeder from our F.U.M. Friends group and together a plan to make a removable staircase was developed. (The staircase has to be removable so that it is not completely covered with water during the times of the year that the pond is filled.) After a day of construction and installation the staircase was ready, complete with a railing and an intermediate railing (not in picture) to keep those rambunctious fisherpersons in line (no pun intended). So thank you to Ron and Don for your time, knowledge, and effort and to everyone we hope to see you on February 7, 2015stairs

Ron and Jorge test out the new stairs




A New Record Is Set

By: Aaron von Eschen

Doug minnows

Doug helps load a truck with fathead minnows.

This was an excellent year for the Genoa National Fish Hatchery for both mussel and fish production, but particularly good for our fathead minnow production. The largest pond on the hatchery spanning thirty-three acres in size is home to the smallest fish we produce. Make no mistake, these fish are absolutely vital in terms of forage for our production species such as walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass. The fathead minnows that exist on station allow us to grow the young of the year game species on station to a larger size to increase stocking success and overwinter survival. Housing our own population of forage fish allows readily available feed and allows the hatchery staff to monitor the fish’s health to ensure that we have a healthy forage base and eliminates the need to purchase forage and take the chance of possibly importing and spreading an unwanted disease or virus. This year’s fathead minnow production was one for the record books! The hatchery staff trapped minnows from July through September to feed walleyes and bass on station and then drained and harvested the pond in November. When all was said and done for the year the hatchery harvested over 1,200 gallons of minnows totaling more than 10,200 lbs. of forage for our fish. All those minnows did not go straight to the mouths of the fish at Genoa though, the hatchery partnered up with the Iowa DNR to transfer fathead minnows to a couple of their facilities to ensure their fish had plenty of disease free food for the winter as well. Our partnership with the Iowa DNR has proved to be mutually beneficial providing them with forage and giving Genoa NFH an opportunity to distribute excess fish. The staff here at Genoa hopes that the record breaking continues in both fish and mussel production.
About Genoa NFH
Genoa NFH was established over 75 years ago and is one of 70 Federal Fish Hatcheries located across the Nation. Genoa cultures a variety of cold, cool, and warm water fish as well as freshwater mussels and one salamander species. The hatchery is open for tours during business hours. For large groups, please call for an appointment. You 608-6892605 from 7:30 am to 3

Endow-Bio Inc. Supports FWS Mission at the Genoa NFH


Endow-Bio Incorporated is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting ecosystem biodiversity and conservation by fund-raising and financial support of conservation organizations. The Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) was contacted in 2014 by Endow to be one of four beneficiaries in 2015. The Genoa NFH freshwater mussel recovery and restoration program was recognized by Endow as an effort that promotes biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems, and promotes conservation of this imperiled aquatic fauna. We were honored to be considered as a beneficiary that supports
ecosystem biodiversity, in good company with other notable organizations in 2014 such as Prairie Biotic Research and the Center for Coastal Studies. Through Endow-Bio’s 2014 efforts a total of $1609 was collected and distributed to the hatchery in early 2015. This donation will go directly to support freshwater mussel conservation through mussel propagation cage building supplies and food for host fish production. Many thanks are owed to Endow- Bio for supporting our freshwater mussel
conservation efforts in 2015. Also many thanks go to Congressman Ron Kind (WI-3rd district) and his sponsorship of the National Fish Hatchery Volunteer Act of 2006, which created legislation permitting direct donations such as these to be transferred directly to fish hatcheries in support of their mission.