BY DOUG ALOISI, GENOA NFH
Megan Bradley arrives at Genoa NFH. Credit: USFWS
Megan Bradley, formerly the Southwest Virginia Freshwater Mussel Recovery Coordinator of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fishes, has joined us at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) as our new freshwater mussel propagation biologist. We are very excited to have her join our team as she brings a depth of experience in intensive mussel propagation systems with her that we plan to use in the “Clam Palace”, our freshwater mussel propagation facility.
Genoa’s mussel program is a relatively new program, beginning in 2000, and originally concentrated on extensive mussel culture. This method focused on the placement of fish that have been “infested” with mussel larvae, or glochidia, and caged over suitable mussel habitat. As the field of mussel propagation has progressed, more intensive methods of mussel culture have been developed. These involve controlling temperature, water quality, and feed availability in specially designed culture units that typically recirculate or use standing aerated water. Megan did her Masters of Science work at Missouri State University with Dr. Chris Barnhart, one of the pioneers of modern freshwater mussel propagation. Some of the very systems that Dr. Barnhart developed have either been put into use or will be put into operation soon in order for us to further the station mission of freshwater mussel conservation. Megan will be working closely with Nathan Eckert, our senior mussel propagation biologist, on the many ongoing Recovery and Restoration projects that Genoa is working on.
Please join us in welcoming Megan to the Midwest!
BY EMY MONROE, WHITNEY GENETICS LAB
On the left, Zeb, Nick Berndt, Mai Yang, and Erica are checking out the new code Katie updated so they will know how to analyze the black carp data as it is generated this week. On the right, Kyle Von Ruden, Maren Tuttle-Lau, and Nick Grueneis are loading reactions in the automated liquid handling systems. Credit: Emy Monroe, USFWS
The Whitney Genetics Laboratory (WGL) team added three new employees this winter, and everyone welcomed the extra hands and creative minds to the work group. Our new team members come to us from three different states: Erica Mize moved here from South Dakota, Katherine (Katie) Bockrath moved from Georgia, and Zebadiah (Zeb) Woiak was back in Wisconsin before starting at the lab.
Each of our new employees brings a different skill set to our lab, and they have already diversified the analyses conducted in the lab and introduced new methods to streamline efforts, saving money and time. They got to know each other and the rest of the WGL team by working over the winter to optimize methods for genetic identification of wild-caught fish eggs and larvae.
These samples are collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field offices or state partners via ichthyoplankton sampling events as part of the unified efforts against Asian carp in the Chicago Area Waterway, the Upper Mississippi River, and tributaries of both systems. WGL can now provide our partners species identification services by collecting sequences from two different genes and using those sequences to compare results to an international sequence data base. Of course, they would not be ready to go unless they were ready to help process the thousands of environmental DNA (eDNA) samples as part of the early detection and surveillance programs for bighead and silver carp.
They spent a few weeks in training with our experienced team members, and this past week, they passed their lab exams and demonstrated proficiency in following the procedures outlined in the Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). Thus, they are “QAPP-certified” – and just in time, eDNA samples should begin arriving in a couple of weeks!
The lab has also been busy working with our partner lab at the US Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center to validate and test new eDNA markers for Black Carp. It has taken a couple of different field trips by our dedicated Carterville and La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices to find field positive samples to use in these validation studies. Last week, the second set of field samples were extracted, and everyone was busy in the lab on a Monday morning, setting up real-time polymerase chain reactions and learning how to analyze the data with freshly updated code on the computer. We are all looking forward to a busy and productive field season!
During September, several Region 3 scuba divers completed dives twice a week to check for gravid winged mapleleaf mussels on the St. Croix River near Saint Croix Falls(WI). Winged mapleleaf mussels are listed as endangered at both the state and federal level. This was, by far, the highlight of my diving season since I had the chance to observe several different mussel species displaying their lures to attract potential host fish. On one of my dives, we had the chance to observe two winged mapleleaf that were gravid and actively displaying. Nathan Eckert from the Genoa National Fish Hatchery brought these animals back as brood stock for future recovery efforts.
By Kyle Mosel
A female winged mapleleaf mussel is examined for signs of embryos within.
We’ve all heard the saying “Third time’s the charm.” This statement rang true during October in a mutually beneficial manner when Jenna Merry resumed working at the La Crosse FWCO … now as a permanent employee! Jenna first began working here during the summer of 2010 as a Student Temporary Employee while enrolled as an undergraduate at Winona State University. She returned to work here again in 2012, on a part-time basis, while enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where she earned a Master of Science degree (Biology) in 2015. Jenna left our office earlier this year to work briefly for the Carterville FWCO in Wilmington, Illinois, where her primary duty was keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Jenna is a now a fishery biologist at our office whose focus will be to help prevent/control the spread of aquatic invasive species in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Welcome home and back on board!
by Mark Steingraeber
Last month students from Southern Bluffs Elementary, Summit Environmental and Lincoln Middle Schools (LaCrosse WI) spent the day trading in text-books for hands on learning at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. The hatchery partners with Southern Bluffs, Lincoln and Summit schools to support their mission of providing students with a solid educational foundation in the core academic areas with an environmental focus integrated throughout the curriculum. This directly correlates to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s connecting children with nature initiative. Genoa collaborates directly with teaches to match activities at the hatchery with corresponding class work. Students visit the hatchery in fall, winter and spring each year as part of the outdoor classroom and Genoa staff members also visit the classroom for in class lessons. In class lessons consist of native fish identification, fish anatomy, native fresh-water mussels and monarch restoration and habitat enhancement. During the first session of outdoor classroom students experience hands on learning activities based off of lessons in the classroom.
Students make and identify different animal tracks
In the fall students tour the hatchery and learn about the importance of aquatic resource management and the role the hatchery plays in sustaining and recovering fish and mussel populations. In winter students learn about animal tracks, furs, and experience the history and sport of trapping and importance of trapping as an effective management tool. Students also grow milkweed in the classroom over the winter months for planting on hatchery grounds in the spring. During spring session the students will have a tour of the hatchery to see how the fish have grown overwinter. This allows students to observe different species of fish and life stages from eggs through adults. The students end their day with a lesson on prairie restoration and the ecological benefits of prairies to many species of animals. In addition students plant milkweed that was grown over the winter in the classroom. Students also use quadrats to assess the amount of cover of different species of prairie grasses and possible invasive plants. This data allows the hatchery to assess its restoration practices and take action where needed. These hands on experiences trap memories and instill conservation in the minds of these future stewards of our natural resources.
By: Orey Eckes
An adult black sandshell
In an effort to further Genoa National Fish Hatchery’s mussel production the staff at the hatchery is constantly looking for ways to improve methods. Some improvements may come in the form of culture facility updates and others may come in the form of simply trying new things with fish. Production of the black sandshell at Genoa is an example of our constant efforts to get better. The black sandshell is widely known to use walleye and sauger as hosts for their glochidia, however with the uncertainty of how pond production can go sometimes the station is stuck in a position where there are simply not enough fish for mussel production goals. Enter yellow perch. Yellow perch are also raised at Genoa NFH and we consistently produce large year classes that are not as common with walleye production. Yellow perch and walleye are closely related and are both members of the perch family; therefore it was thought that perhaps black sandshell could utilize yellow perch as a suitable hose as well. In December we set up a small host test to determine if we were on to something. The glochidia from a black sandshell were used to inoculate 10 yellow perch. They were maintained in our aquarium system for two weeks while we counted the live and dead mussels that dropped off. In the end we recovered 160 live juvenile mussels. This equals 16 per fish and less than 2% transformation of all the glochidia that attached to the fish. Walleye and sauger will transform over 70% of attached glochidia and usually yield over 700 juveniles per fish. A moderate host for this species would be expected to transform at least 30%. While our results didn’t provide a host to be used for hatchery mussel production we did find that the larvae could transform at some level on the yellow perch. This trial won’t change future work at the hatchery, but we wouldn’t know if we didn’t take the time to try.
By: Aaron Von Eschen
Yellow perch gills with mussel glochidia
In response to declining monarch butterfly habitat the Genoa National Fish Hatchery has made it a priority to participate in a Monarch Joint Venture to conserve monarch butterfly habitat along their 3,000 mile migration route. Last fall, staff at Genoa collected hundreds of pods from two different types of milkweed containing thousands of seeds. Those seeds were planted around the hatchery grounds including the native prairie and notable increases in common milkweed and swamp milkweed plants were seen. Throughout this past summer adult monarchs and monarch caterpillars were seen all over the hatchery on the milkweed ensuring that the efforts taken were successful. Milkweed plants are an essential diet for monarch caterpillars and adults feed on the nectar of the flowers. Providing an area rich in milkweed will attract adults continuously to lay their eggs on the plants. This fall staff was at it again collecting even more seed pods than the previous year in hopes of providing even more essential habitat next summer for the migrating monarch butterflies. Genoa has also taken additional steps in monarch conservation in the form of information about monarchs available to the public, milkweed and monarchs in the classroom, as well as including information and trips around the wetland to explain monarch life history and habitat on guided tours. The staff at Genoa is looking forward to informing the public about the importance of monarchs and steps that can be taken to assist in recovery of these butterflies. Information can also be found on the internet for anyone who is interested in the status of monarch butterflies and steps that can be taken assist maintaining butterfly habitat as well as information on flower gardens to help attract them on their migration routes. By: Aaron Von Eschen
Bill Wayman observes a captive sturgeon
On November 10th a delegation of 6 fish biologists from across the US traveled to China to take part in an information exchange between the two countries concerning sturgeon conservation and propagation. The delegation was comprised of biologists with varying backgrounds, yet all working with sturgeon at their stations. From the Midwest Region 3, Beka McCann from the La Crosse Fish Health Center, Dave Hendrix from Neosho National Fish Hatchery and Angela Baran from Genoa National Fish Hatchery were selected for the group. China has eight species of sturgeon, three of which are now listed species. The Chinese sturgeon was listed as a protected species in 1994 and the country has been working to prevent extinction and restore it through habitat conservation, propagation and stocking, fishing regulations and commercial production to eliminate the need for harvest. There are less than 1,000 Chinese sturgeon left due to the same stressors experienced in US sturgeon populations; loss of habitat due to pollution or construction of dams and over fishing (or getting caught as bycatch in nets), recovery of the species is slow due to the life history of sturgeon: mature after 15 -20 years and only spawning every 3-5 years.
The Chinese sturgeon spawns only in the Yangtze River and has lost a large portion of their spawning route due to the construction of 2 dams as well as the loss of their staging grounds in the Yangtze River Estuary. The delegation trip followed the route of the sturgeon along the Yangtze River, visiting hatcheries, nature reserves and two dams as well as the commercial production facilities of Kaluga Queen. The Ministry of Agriculture has set up two critical Nature Reserves for the Chinese sturgeon, the Yangtze River Estuary Nature Reserve and the Hubei Sturgeon Reserve.
Sturgeon in net pens
The estuary serves as critical habitat used by fingerling lake sturgeon as they migrate out to sea and for the spawning adults who may stage there for 1-2 years before travelling up the river to the spawn-ing site. The adults will also return to the estuary to feed, regain their strength and reacclimate to saltwater after spawning before they go back out to sea. Construction of the Gezhouba Dam on the Yangtze River near Yichang shortened the spawning route of the Chinese sturgeon by eliminating any possible passage upriver. The Hubei Sturgeon Reserve was established in 1996 to preserve the critical spawning habitat now used by the sturgeon just below the dam. There are conflicts between protection of the species and development of the city. Protection of the site is now forcing developers to design and build in more sturgeon friendly ways, such as no construction structures in the river, so bridges must span the entire width of the river and while work is being done, lights and noise must not disturb the sturgeon. In addition to protection efforts, a hatchery in Jingzhou City was established in 2012 to propagate juvenile sturgeon for stocking efforts. To reduce the impact on native species and still support the demand for caviar and sturgeon, the Ministry has allowed commercial aquaculture to obtain gametes from wild fish several years ago to begin a brood line for captive rearing. The company is now using the second captive generation for production, no wild fish have been used in over 15 years.
A commercial sturgeon hatchery
In exchange, the company provides juvenile fish for several other aquaculture companies and releases fish back into the wild for restoration efforts as well. The Kaluga Queen company uses both intensive (hatchery buildings) and extensive (net pens in lakes) to raise sturgeon for caviar, meat and leather. To minimize the possible environmental impact from the net pen culture in Qiandao Lake, the company employs a dual pen system and has created a cleaning system. The sturgeon are reared in the top pen with another species in a secondary pen to capture any waste feed. They have devised a collection system under the pens for the fish waste that can be siphoned out, filtered and then the water returned to the lake.
This trip highlighted both the similarities and differences between sturgeon restoration in the two countries, allowing both sides to share information and obtain possible new methods for culture or conservation efforts. Both countries hope to preserve the native populations and to educate the public to create a sense of stewardship for the resources, ensuring future generations continue the fight to preserve these great fish. By: Angela Baran