Mussel Host Test Conducted at Genoa


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

Visitor Center Construction Continues Despite Winters Deep Freeze


Workers installing insulation and wallboard in winter temperatures. Credit: USFWS

Construction of Genoa National Fish Hatchery’s Visitor Center continued despite high temperatures of the single digits being reached in some of this winter’s coldest weather. Construction crews from C3T Inc., of Milwaukee Wisconsin continued steel erection and buttoning up the building so work could continue in a somewhat controlled environment, at least compared to outside temperatures.

The Visitor Center is aptly named the Great River Road Interpretive Center due to the project receiving a grant from the Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byway Program. The Scenic Byway Program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation recognizes certain roads as All-American Roads or National Scenic Byways based on one or more archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities, and State Highway 35 which intersect the hatchery has been selected as one of America’s scenic byways.

North side of the building closed and insulated from winter’s extremes.
Credit: USFWS

The purpose of the center will be to interpret and inform travelers of the great history of the local area, the conservation history and value of local natural resources, and local history exhibits of the area such as the Blackhawk war, in regards to its local and national significance.

Timeline for completion of the building is somewhat fluid due to weather and material constraints; construction completion is still planned for the fall of 2016. Exhibit design and construction will continue into the winter with building opening tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2017. The Genoa NFH staff is excited about the new center and looks forward to the benefits it will add to our outdoor classrooms and conservation education program.

Monarch Recovery Effort

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

USFWS Sends Sturgeon delegation to China


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.


pens                                                        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.

pens 2                                                          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

Mussel Culture Program: SUPSY Trial Shows Promising Results

Initial size of fatmucket grown in the SUSPY during the 2015 summer.
Credit: Lloyd Lorenz

This summer we tested a culture unit known as a SUPSY for rearing sub-adult mussels to a size suitable for stocking. SUPSY stands for suspended upwelling system and is made from a pair of two gallon buckets nested together with window screen cut-outs to allow water flow through the unit. Air flow provided by a blower creates lift that continually circulates water through the system. A total of eight SUPSY units were placed in the Ice Harbor at Dubuque, Iowa this spring in cooperation with the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. The eight units consisted of six sets of fatmucket and two sets of Higgins’ eye mussels. The mussels were monitored from late May through early October. During that time they were visited on a two week schedule for routine cleaning and data collection. The trial proved to be successful, with good growth and survival.

Final size of fatmucket grown in the SUPSY during the 2015
summer. Credit: Jared McGovern

The results speak for themselves with 481% growth and nearly 96% survival for fatmuckets and 210% growth and a little more than 80% survival for Higgins’ eye. And more importantly, the mussels exceeded growth rates that could be expected using methods currently available at the hatchery. The Museum and Aquarium was able to incorporate the SUPSY maintenance with their summer outreach programs providing a valuable benefit for both stations. We wish to thank the Museum and Aquarium for their assistance on this project and we look forward to continuing the partnership in the future.

Isolation Building Currently Home to Lake Trout and Future Home to Whitefishes


Lake Trout fry being transferred to culture tanks. Credit: USFWS

As lake sturgeon culture and pond harvest wrap up for the fall, Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) staff begin to focus their attention on hatching cold water fish during the winter months. Currently lake trout eggs are beginning to hatch as we wait for new arrivals of coaster brook trout and rainbow trout eggs.

Genoa NFH staff member Jeff Lockington collected wild lake trout eggs from Cayuga Lake, New York. The hatchery collects gametes from approximately 100 pairs of lake trout to maximize genetic contribution for future brood lines. Eggs collected from Cayuga Lake are shipped back to the Genoa NFH for incubation in the current regional isolation facility. As the eggs begin to hatch, an equal representative sample of fry are transferred to culture tanks for grow out. Lake trout are held in the isolation facility until clearing three separate disease inspections by the La Crosse Fish Health Center. Once the lake trout clear disease inspection after two years, they are transferred to Iron River NFH in Wisconsin and Sullivan Creek NFH in Michigan. These fish will serve as future broodstock in the National Fish Hatchery system.

Addition to Isolation Building. Credit: USFWS

Construction is currently underway on a new 90 square foot addition to the isolation building. In the future, this addition will be home to bloater chubs and other species of coregonids (whitefishes). These fish are an important part of the prey fish community in the Great Lakes and serve an important role in many predator-prey relationships. In an effort to reestablish these species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with multiple agencies to create broodstocks to assist in the reintroduction of lake herring and whitefish in the Great Lakes. Bloater chubs have experienced a decline in the Great Lakes due to commercial fishing, habitat degradation and an invasion of non-native species such as invasive plankton, alewife, and zebra and quagga mussels. A top priority with Great Lakes managers has been to recover native species to provide a better balance in food-web structure and function.

With the new addition, hatchery biologists will have the ability to recirculate at least 90 percent of the water. The building will be equipped with an incubation system, 12 circular tanks for fry and two rectangular tanks for juvenile and adult fish. Supply water will be fresh well water from the hatchery. In addition, there will be a drum filter, UV treatment system, injectable oxygen, and water temperature control systems for incubation of eggs and larvae and rearing of and quarantining of the new arrivals.

Needle In a Haystack

spectacle caseYoung and old Spectacle Case mussel. Credit: USFWS

The Spectacle Case mussel is one of the Upper Mississippi River Basin’s most endangered mussels. The mussel is so endangered, in fact that it was placed on the Federal Endangered Species List in 2012. This was due to its precipitous decline in numbers and its decline over its historic range. The Spectacle Case mussel also likes to hold its secrets close to the vest, with no known host aquatic species being found after extensive studies by some of the most highly regarded malacologists. Most mussel species spend time living off a fish or aquatic animal, in order to complete their life cycle. This is during their larval stage when they are not fully developed enough for exogenous feeding, and must live on the host animal. The larvae attach to the aquatic animals gills or skin, feeding off of the animal’s blood and body fluid. Mussel biologists can take advantage of this life stage to further mussel populations by bringing hosts and mussels together in an artificial environment to increase the probability that larval mussels (or glochidia) are transferred successfully to the host. But to do this, they must know which animal successfully “transforms” the mussel species from larval stage to juvenile mussel. Many mussel species have a specific host that will only successfully transform theirs pecific mussel larvae. Of course these studies take resources, time and money to complete.

                                 Spectacle Case mussels after a recent
                         mussel survey. Credit: USFWS

An opportunity to achieve all three of these requirements arose this past year. Nathan Eckert, mussel biologist at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) received a prestigious Rachel Carson Science Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The award came with funding to commit to practicing good science that would further the recipients work. Nathan is matching his award with Science Support Proposal Funding, a cooperative grant process involving solving unmet research needs in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This will make both grants go that much further in order to attempt to finally close the door on what host the mussel uses. Once this can be determined, mussel propagation efforts can be initiated in order to ensure that this unique species can be brought back from the brink of extinction. These host fish trials will be completed cooperatively with the USGS’s Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The lab also played an important role in furthering endangered mussel conservation with the USFWS, when the host fish species was discovered for the Winged Mapleleaf Mussel in the early 2000’s. We are hoping to build upon this successful partnership again this year in hopes to finally crack the secrets of the Spectacle Case mussel.

Students Involved in Habitat Project


What better way for budding biologists to get their hands dirty than digging in the dirt? This past year, students at Southern Bluffs Elementary School helped Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) Staff with a long-term habitat restoration project.


One of the wetland meadows that students are working to restore.
Credit: Scott Covington, USFWS

Genoa NFH is a 155-acre facility established in 1932. Since its founding, the mission has broadened from a fish culture station into a state of the art facility that raises lake sturgeon and coaster brook trout, as well as endangered mussel species including the Higgins eye pearlymussel and the winged mapleleaf mussel. Genoa NFH recently began raising an endangered insect – the Hine’s emerald dragonfly.

Continuing this effort to broaden the hatchery’s operation, staff tapped into the Service’s Connecting People with Nature initiative, reviewing ideas to get children involved in projects on the ground. Several ideas were discussed, but staff agreed that involving students in a yearlong study would provide the students with repeat experiences in nature augment their current science curriculum and benefit the hatchery.

Staff identified specific habitat blocks within a former 30-acre wetland pasture on the hatchery grounds in need of improving, so students could attack the problem systematically, acre by acre. Jennifer Bailey, now of the Service’s La Crosse Fish Health Center, began the Outdoor Classroom project with a simple idea – involve local students in an outdoor classroom by having them assist with a four-season restoration project spanning the length of the school year – and simultaneously, help improve habitat conditions on the hatchery grounds.

Initially, students were introduced to vegetative quadrat plots – a method that quantifies all species within the boundaries of a quadrat, typically one meter square. Students learn to identify grasses, forbs and shrubs through this method, and also learn how to record data on the density of each species.

Once students confirmed what species were present and the density of those species, they determined a method to address problems they noted. For example, when students found the meadow covered in an exotic plant, they planned how to reduce the exotic’s numbers.

One method used involved collecting seeds from native plants on the hatchery grounds. Students plucked milkweed seeds from pods and planted the seeds across the hatchery to improve habitat for pollinators, especially important for the Monarch butterfly. As part of their “experiment”, they directly sowed seeds in the ground as well as raised them in a greenhouse setting – to compare the rates of seed growth in the wild and an artificial setting.

Students also helped by planting native species directly amongst the invaders with the expectation that our natives will outcompete – outgrow – their foreign rivals. One of those rivals that are found on the hatchery grounds is reed canary grass. This species is very invasive – it can take over entire wetland meadows by forming a blanket of grass that has little value for wildlife because so few species eat it, doesn’t provide cover for small mammals or waterfowl, and when it flowers, produces a lot of pollen, which aggravate hay fever and allergies.

The project will continue on into the winter and spring as children note how the plants go dormant, covered with snow, and then respond next spring as the first shoots turn green. They will continue with the quadrat plots to determine the effectiveness of their project. So far, the students have three acres of habitat restored – leaving enough for the next class of biologists to begin work.

Hatchery manager Doug Aloisi had this to say about the project, “The hatchery has recently worked with Prairie Moon Seed Company to purchase native prairie seeds and planted roughly six acres of native seeds to support the habitat restoration. This active restoration project, which students can take ownership of and be an active participant in, will help them to see the benefits of becoming the next generation of conservation stewards that value wild things and places and strive to conserve them. The project will also dovetail nicely with the new Great River Road Interpretive Center, which will focus on the value on the natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River Basin and how to conserve them for future generations.”

Learn more about Genoa NFH at:

Expanding Asian Carp Telemetry on Mississippi River




Bailey Ketelsen offloads an acoustic receiver which revealed acoustically tagged Asian carp in Pool 16. Credit: Kyle Mosel, USFWS
During October, Tyler Harris, Katie Lieder, and Kyle Mosel traveled to Muscatine, Iowa to see if we could acoustically tag Asian carp on Pool 16 in the Mississippi River. Numerous efforts have been made to capture Asian carp above Lock & Dam 16 on several pools during 2015 but with no success. However, in recent weeks we located several tagged bighead and hybrid Asian carp in Pool 16 with the manual tracking gear and also on our stationary acoustic receivers. The next week we brought our surgery gear and a boat full of gill nets to see if we could capture Asian carp where three other fish have been located. After battling the cold and strong winds, six Asian carp were collected on Pool 16 which is the first time a state or federal agency has captured and reported Asian carp according to the Nonindigenous Aquatic Species website hosted by U.S. Geological Survey. Even though we would not like to see these fish advance up the Mississippi River, being able to follow these fish within the river will allow us to identify sites for future monitoring or control efforts.

fish2Kyle Mosel holds the first acoustically tagged and released silver carp on Pool 16. Credit: Bailey Ketelsen, USFWS

In total four silver carp and one hybrid Asian carp ranging in size from 15 to 25 pounds were implanted with Vemco transmitters and released in Pool 16. These “Judas” fish will be closely followed for the next seven years to see if they can help identify sites on Pool 16 to capture, monitor, and possibly control the spread of Asian carp in the future. So far we have learned a lot from the tagged fish on Pools 17, 18, and 19, so hopefully these new fish from Pool 16 can show us where they are residing throughout the year.

Milkweed and Monarchs in the Classroom!!!

Due to declines in monarch butterfly habitat the Genoa National Fish Hatchery has focused efforts on milkweed classroomconserving the monarch butterfly migration as part of Monarch Joint Venture in the form of habitat restoration. Last fall, staff at Genoa collected thousands of milkweed pods from around the hatchery grounds. Seeds were removed from the pods and later planted for restoration of milkweed on the hatcheries 75 acres of suitable habitat. As the summer nears to an end hatchery staff has observed noticeable increases in milkweed plants. With the increase of milkweed plants we have documented numerous eggs and larvae occupying and feeding on the leaves. With increase in larval numbers it’s no surprise that we have been seeing many adults flying around. As fall is near we have begun collecting milkweed pods for the next planting season in hope of further  nectar plants are critical for survival of adult butterflies. Accompanying a strong milkweed increasing milkweed abundance at the hatchery. The hatchery has taken steps to also engage others in monarch conservation.

girl with milkweed

Southern Bluffs Elementary school is partnering with the hatchery to make students aware of the threats that monarchs face and what they can do to help. Teachers are incorporating monarch butterfly lessons in their science curricula with the help of fish and wildlife employees from the hatchery through
teaching and engaging youth about monarch conservation. As the school has begun, hatchery
staff has taught students about milkweed restoration and how important milkweed in the Midwest is to monarch butterflies. Milkweed pods were brought into the classroom to give students a chance to identify plant structures as well as collect seeds for the hatchery to plant. This hands on learning gives students a vested interest in the project. Within the next month students will return to see the results of their work paying off during outdoor classrooms lessons at the hatchery. The fall lesson will consist of a hatchery tour and field surveys for milkweed, larval and adult monarch butterflies. According to monarch joint venture it is known that milkweed plants are essential for larval caterpillars and abundance with a nectar garden aids in the survival of both larvae and adults. For the past few years Genoa has been partnering with the Gardening Club of LaCrosse, WI to help plant native nectaring plants to support adult monarchs. These native nectar plants which bloom throughout the summer provide food for adult monarchs. Monarch conservation is well on its way at Genoa with the help of many partners and through teaching future generations the importance of monarch conservation.
By: Orey Eckes