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

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.

Genoa NFH Increases Capacity to Rear Larval Lake Sturgeon


Lake sturgeon starter tanks in operation in the summer of 2014. Credit: USFWS

Winter is usually a time where the hatchery receives and cares for our salmonid (rainbow trout, lake trout, and coaster brook trout) eggs and fry, and begins to maintain and winterize all of our nets and equipment that we have put to hard use during our field season. In the last few years however, it is also a time that we try to expand our capabilities for doing good things in the upcoming production season, usually involving increasing our capacity in freshwater mussel recovery and restoration and lake sturgeon restoration. This season, due to increased success in lake sturgeon egg survival, we noticed that the new bottleneck in the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) lake sturgeon production program was larval tank space.

So this fall, fourteen new circular tanks are being acquired and, plumbing systems are being modified to accommodate these tanks to be installed over the existing juvenile rearing tanks. This will save floor space and rearing space. Through these efforts, we should be able to house an extra 30,000 larval lake sturgeon, until they are large enough to be cared for in our current juvenile tanks. The new space should also allow for healthier sturgeon to be cared for in our current facilities, which will hopefully allow for a healthier fish to be stocked into receiving waters. The added capacity will be important in future years, as lake sturgeon propagation for restoration is very much in demand, with historic populations in the Midwest at historic low levels and propagated fish surviving very well in ongoing restoration programs.

Outdoor Classroom Incorporates Milkweed Production into Curriculum


Students learn about the relationship between monarch butterflies and
milkweed plants. Credit: USFWS

Over the past few years the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) has been establishing relationships with area schools. This was done with the objective of developing an environmental-based curriculum that can be incorporated into the already established educational plans that each grade level follows. Our focus is to teach about the purpose of the National Fish Hatchery system and provide a place that students can learn to interact with and experience the natural world around them. We also hope to facilitate the development of a bond with nature that will last for the rest of their lives.

Our Sense of Wonder Wetland provides the perfect place for just such activities to occur. This space offers students the chance to experience diverse ecological communities including: wetlands, prairies, and woods. In this area students find snakes, hear bird calls, chase mice, or indulge in many other activities that a simple nature walk can provide. Mixed into all this fun are hidden lessons that are forever sewn into their memory.

jorge kids

Student plants milkweed seeds. Credit: USFWS

Due to the decline in monarch butterfly populations the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working toward increasing the acreage of established milkweed beds. Milkweed plants are the preferred food of monarch butterfly caterpillars and increasing the amount of suitable habitat for juvenile growth and development should increase adult populations.


jorge kids2
Students teaming up for Monarchs. Credit: USFWS

Seizing on the available opportunity the Genoa NFH has decided to incorporate milkweed plantings and the lifecycle of monarch butterflies into the outdoor classroom curriculum. We have worked with students from Southern Bluffs Elementary School in doing fall plantings in the prairie area of our Sense of Wonder Wetland. These students will be back in to spring to see if there plants have emerged. The Summit Environmental School has also joined the fun, with them we are hoping to start some plants early in the school’s greenhouses and plant them in the spring during their hatchery visit.

The integration of these programs seems like a no-brainer. We are dealing with a real-world problem and the students are able to help us work toward making it better. Hopefully, they will see the results of their actions and grow-up remembering the impact that they can make and the importance of their decisions.

Lake Sturgeon Return to Upstate New York after Summering in Wisconsin



Sturgeon stocking location. Credit: USFWS

Lake sturgeon fingerlings reared in America’s heartland of Genoa Wisconsin this summer made the long trek back to upstate New York to be released in historical sturgeon waters of the Empire State. Sturgeon were historically common in the St. Lawrence, Niagara, and Genesee Rivers, as well as throughout the Great Lakes but overharvest, pollution, habitat destruction and barriers to spawning grounds caused large population declines by the early 20th century.

Lake sturgeon are on New York’s state Endangered Species list and are a species of concern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due to their low population numbers and unique life history that requires females to reach 20-24 years of age before reaching maturity. Genoa National Fish Hatchery was asked to participate in this restoration effort in 2011 due to its past experience in lake sturgeon egg collections and propagation. New York’s St. Lawrence River population of lake sturgeon typically spawns the latest in the spring due to the water source being the cold outflow of the Great Lakes. This usually causes this strain to be stocked out last in the fall, when autumn leaves and water temperatures are dropping at a rapid pace.

stocking trailer
New York DEC biologist moving Lake sturgeon. Credit: USFWS
This fall 6900 six inch lake sturgeon were placed on a truck and trailer in Wisconsin to make the 24 hour trip. The fish handled well, hauled with no problems and were anxious to get out of the tanks and into their natal waters. Sturgeon stocking is only one of a handful of conservation tools in the toolbox, with habitat and water quality improvements, dam mitigation to minimize impediments to migration and harvest controls also being important tools to consider and employ. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) also raises an equal portion of the egg take from St. Lawrence River Operations in their hatchery system to advance restoration. This was actually Genoa’s second trip east with sturgeon in 2014, with 6,500 four inch fish being stocked out in September. Many thanks go to Scott Schlueter of the Cortland Endangered Species office for coordinating the partnership between the Service and the NYDEC, and providing supportive funding through the Fish Enhancement, Mitigation and Research Outreach fund, a mitigation funding avenue of the Eisenhower Locks of Massena.