Hello, my name is Erica Rasmussen and I am the new Environmental Education Specialist at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. I am extremely excited for this opportunity and would encourage you all to stop by the Great River Road Interpretive Center and introduce yourself if you are in the area!
Ava, Erica, Easton and Kurt hiking Devils Tower in Wyoming. Photo: Erica Rasmussen USFWS
My husband, Kurt and I moved to the La Crosse area in 2006 and instantly fell in love with the area. We spent our weekends exploring the Mississippi River backwaters and hiking the beautiful bluffs. I now have two children, daughter Ava and son Easton, and a black lab named Lily. We love the outdoors and spend our free time hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting together. I have been a teacher in the La Crosse School District for the past 14 years. I have a double major in Special Education and Regular Education at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. I also have a master’s degree in Education from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.
For the past 11 years, I have been taking my classes to the hatchery for many outdoor educational experiences such as helping out with their garden, planting milkweed, trail walks, identifying animal tracks in the snow and mud, learning about furbearing mammals and about the history of the area. The recently constructed Interpretive Center offers tons of new learning opportunities for my class. I truly believe that these field trips provided the most memorable learning opportunities for the students and offered me the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors and environmental education.
I now get to share my that passion with a wide range of audiences on a daily basis while working at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery! I started this new position in June and the days are flying by. Please understand, I still consider myself a teacher, but my classroom now encompasses 155 acres, 20 ponds, and the Great River Road Interpretive Center! I have already gotten to meet wonderful people from all over the country. Please stop on by for a tour or to explore the Great River Road Interpretive Center. We are currently open from 9 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday. There is also a beautiful gift shop available from 11-3pm as well. I hope to see you soon! By: Erica Rasmussen
Fertilized Lake Trout eggs
As lake sturgeon culture and pond harvest wrap up for the fall, Genoa National Fish Hatchery staff members begin to focus their attention on hatching cold water fish during the winter months. Genoa staff member (Jeff Lockington) collected wild lake trout eggs from Cayuga Lake, New York. Genoa collects gametes from approximately 125 pairs of lake trout to maximize genetic contribution for future brood lines. Eggs collected from Cayuga Lake are shipped back to the hatchery for incubation in the current regional isolation facility at GNFH. Upon receiving eyed eggs, they were disinfected with iodine and incubated in heath trays at water temperatures between 7-8 °C in an insulated recirculating system. As the eggs begin to hatch, an equal representative sample of fry will be transferred to culture tanks for grow out. These lake trout will remain on station for a year and a half until they clear three fish health inspections by the La Crosse Fish Health Center (La Crosse, WI). Once all testing comes back clear, the fish will be transferred to their forever home at one of our broodstock facilities (Iron River National Fish Hatchery, WI). These fish will serve as future broodstock in the national fish hatchery system. By: Orey Eckes
Eggs going into the chiller.
The end of the summer growing season is a busy time for the mussel program. As water temperatures begin to drop, propagated juvenile mussels that have spent the summer in various outdoor culture locations are collected and brought back to the mussel building to over-winter. Culture locations have been selected to provide the juvenile mussels a diverse, natural food base (river water) in a secure location (Dubuque’s Ice Harbor, in partnership with the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, and Blackhawk Park, in partnership with the Corps of Engineers). After a summer of growth, mussels are collected, counted, cleaned, and measured. Individuals that have added sufficient growth over the summer are tagged and released at the end of the fall, others over-winter in rearing pans in the mussel building. This summer, juvenile mussels were placed supsys (Suspended Upwelling SYStems) and newly transformed juveniles dropped off fish in cages in the Ice Harbor. Cages were pulled out of the water, cleaned and sorted by a wonderful group of volunteers, River Museum staff, Iowa DNR staff, and USFWS colleagues. Just over 2000 juvenile Higgins Eye mussels were recovered from the sandy substrate in the cages. Pictures of this event were featured on the River Museum’s social media pages, and on Genoa’s Facebook page. Supsys have been maintained all season by River Museum staff and student volunteers and will be end-of-season processed and returned to GNFH in October.
Juvenile Higgins Eye that spent the summer in the MARS trailer are now settled into their winter housing in the mussel building. Photo: Beth Glidewell/USFWS.
Many thousands of newly transformed juvenile mussels and older juveniles of 9 species spent the summer in the MARS (Mobile Aquatic Rearing System) trailer at Blackhawk Park. These juveniles are being counted, measured, and returned to the mussel building throughout the fall. A couple of very dedicated volunteers joined GNFH and other USFWS staff in the processing and counting of cages placed in Pond 14 at the hatchery. This was the 3rd year of an experiment evaluating polyculture methods and pond management. This year’s experiment did not yield any newly transformed juvenile mussels, though about 1000 older Fatmucket juveniles survived and grew to sufficient size in the pond that they can be tagged and released this fall. By: Beth Glidewell
USFWS staff and volunteers recovering mussel cages from Dubuque’s Ice Harbor at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium’s dock. Photo: Erica Rasmussen/USFWS.
Volunteers helped count, sort, and record length measurements of the juvenile Fatmucket recovered from cages placed in Pond 14. Photo: Beth Glidewell/USFWS.
View of the inside of building with excavator.
Since the early 1930’s Genoa has had gravel cold water rearing units serviced by an artesian well just south of the new office building location. The artesian water is a cool 52 degree Fahrenheit and is great for growing trout. In the early 1990’s these gravel raceways were replaced with buried fiberglass raceways. Unfortunately, during flood years they were inundated and undercut with water which made them unstable. Through an increased funding level in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Deferred Maintenance program, the hatchery was awarded a project to replace the fiberglass raceways with concrete raceways and headbox, and a poured concrete floor to replace a gravel floor. These concrete surfaces will also be much more bio-secure, allowing us to properly disinfect the rearing units and building between year classes of fish. The building will then be dedicated to the production of coaster brook trout. The new facilities will allow us to go from egg to stocking without exposing them to any of the other recovery and restoration programs that we currently have ongoing at Genoa. This will give them their own fish health certificate as well, allowing importation to other state partners without the risk of any fish health concerns into their receiving waters. Other improvements to the water delivery system including modifying the artesian well to increase water flows to 350 gallons per minute from 150 gallons per minute by adding a submerged pump in the existing well. This will also increase fish health by reducing fish metabolic products and increasing water quality. Liquid oxygen is also added to the water to increase fish health and reduce free iron concentrations that are inherent in artesian water in our region. We look forward to starting the next batch of coasters in their new digs early next year!
By: Doug Aloisi
Concrete floors with the beginning stages of a raceway.
Teachers and students from Black River Falls listen to Fish Biologist, Nick Bloomfield explain about pond harvest.
October is one of the busiest months of the year at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. October means pond harvesting time. This is the time to see what a summer worth of feeding and careful water monitoring has produced. It also offers excellent opportunities for outdoor education. Just ask Steve Teeples and his students from Black River Falls. Mr. Teeples class helped kickoff this year’s pond harvesting season starting with our smallmouth bass pond. The students eagerly put on waders and jumped into the pond toassist by scooping up hundreds of smallmouth bass and transferred them to the USFWS hatchery truck. It was great to see the excitement on their faces as they assisted with the task and learned about the life cycle of the smallmouth bass. They also learned how smallmouth bass are a host fish used in the reproduction of freshwater mussels.
Students scooping up fish in net.
In total, 9,169 smallmouth bass were harvested from the pond. Some of the bass will be distributed to federal, tribal, and state agencies to be stocked in water bodies, used in the production of freshwater mussels or kept for future broodstock.
I may be a little biased, but I honestly believe that these hands-on outdoor opportunities are vital for students’ education. It allows students to use all of their senses to interact with the natural world while assisting the hatchery with a necessary task. It also exposes them directly to natural resource based career opportunities. If you have any interest in volunteering or bringing a class to the Genoa National Fish Hatchery, please feel free to contact me. By: Erica Rasmussen
A rainy day at Blackhawk Park didn’t stop the young anglers from fishing! On Saturday, August 7, 2021 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosted the annual youth fishing derby. The free event included educational programs and a fishing derby for children 12 years old or younger. The fishing derby was followed by a wonderful lunch and awards ceremony with prizes. Genoa National Fish Hatchery employees Erica Rasmussen and Jeff Lockington participated in the event by teaching an educational program on the function of the hatchery, fish identification and life cycle of freshwater mussels. The participants were even able to hold a live surgeon! This was a great event and awesome opportunity to get children firsthand experience fishing the backwaters of the mighty Mississippi River!
By: Erica Rasmussen
My son, Easton holding a lake sturgeon and my daughter, Ava holding a bass @ Blackhawk Park. Photo: USFWS.
The last cohort of mussels produced during the Summer 2021 season – a small cohort of Sheepnose mussels– have just completed development and are dropping off their golden shiner fish hosts in these first weeks of August. Sheepnose broodstock were collected in mid-July from the Chippewa River, and several hundred golden shiners were inoculated with the viable glochidia, or larvae, gathered from the collected females. Sheepnose are ‘short term brooders’ meaning the females don’t retain the mature glochidia for very long, so time is of the essence during propagation season. Water temperatures and river conditions in mid-summer dictate the spawning and then larval development timing, with female Sheepnose holding viable glochidia for a period as short as a couple of weeks. High water flows in the Chippewa prevented Sheepnose broodstock collection during the 2020 season, so we were pleased to find good river conditions for the collection and return of brooding females for this year.
A brooding plain pocketbook female buried in river sediment, prior to collection. Photo: Megan Bradley/USFWS.
This year’s newly transformed Sheepnose juveniles join cohorts of Black Sandshell, Plain Pocketbook, Hickory Nut, Lilliput, and two large cohorts of Higgin’s Eye juveniles in the MARS trailer, which were produced earlier in the season. These species, in addition to small cohorts of Rock pocketbook and Snuffbox which have been cultured in sediment trays at the mussel building, are all ‘long term brooders’ meaning females hold mature glochidia for longer periods of time, and can be collected sometimes months prior to fish host inoculation and juvenile production. As you can imagine, this makes production scheduling quite a bit easier!
A newly transformed Sheepnose juvenile, viewed under a dissection scope, this juvenile is about 1/3 of a millimeter long. Photo: Beth Glidewell/USFWS.
2021 marks the 150th anniversary of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. From its origins in fisheries conservation in 1871, there have been tremendous changes in the Upper Mississippi River. But for freshwater mussels, the need remains the same; populations of species and communities of them that are resilient to change and local impacts. This isn’t to say that the historic harvest, hydrologic change, pollution, and invasive species introductions in the interim haven’t caused declines, extirpations (when a species is eliminated from an area, but not caused to go extinct), and the need for protection and management at the state and federal level, but that our objectives are the same. What does resilient mean from an environmental perspective? Perhaps it’s best to think of species as ships. Some are able to withstand a hurricane at sea or the crossing of the Drake Passage to Antarctica while even the unsinkable Titanic failed to cross the North Atlantic. The most resilient species have large enough numbers to withstand failures in reproduction, the loss of portions of their populations, genetic diversity for future adaptation to their environment, so we must find ways to recognize and protect this resilience even in our common species to maintain the resilience of their communities and ecosystems and the biosphere.
What does resilient mean for populations and communities of freshwater mussels? It’s a complex question and one we don’t have specific parameters for most species, much less most communities. This year at the hatchery we’ve completed two surveys as further steps in identifying characteristics of resilient populations. One on the Chippewa River where two federally endangered mussel species, the Winged Mapleleaf and the Higgins Eye pearlymussel were reintroduced and one at Guttenberg, IA on the Mississippi River where a train derailment occurred in 2008. Each survey’s data represents a different portion of the web of resilience.
Hatchery reared and reintroduced Higgins Eye found during the Chippewa River survey. Photo Credit: Megan Bradley/ USFWS
For the reintroduction on the Chippewa, a formula was used to calculate persistence of a number of mussels for release based on an estimated chance of survival, the area, and the percent of the community we wanted them to represent, based on other freshwater mussel communities where they’re found. Our survey shows that our estimate of survival over five years was very conservative and there are likely many more Higgins Eye still persisting in the population than we’d predicted. This data helps us refine what mortality and survivorship might look like for this species since all of the Higgins Eye pearlymussels found in the area were placed there. The Guttenberg survey looks at the response of what was likely an old, stable freshwater mussel community to an acute event, or the proverbial cannonball from on high. This year’s survey shows that mussel densities have rebounded to those at the time just after the event with support from reintroduction efforts from the hatchery and that subadult mussels added to the site have survived and grown.
These efforts, while small in the larger scope of freshwater mussel conservation, might play a role in understanding what it means for a mussel species or community to be resilient in the future while furthering individual species recovery in the Chippewa and Mississippi rivers. Every mussel recovered from a cage, tagged, or placed in the rivers by our volunteers and biologists are subtly shaping the science of freshwater mussel recovery and that that’s some pretty significant change from some pretty tiny mussels.
By: Megan Bradley
White suckers inoculated with Rock Pocketbook mussels are housed in an AHAB system- a series of flow-through aquariums that allow easy collection of juvenile mussels after they have transformed and dropped of the fish’s gills. Photo: Beth Glidewell/USFWS.
A pair of hatchery reared and released Higgins Eye found in the Guttenberg mussel survey. Photo: Megan Bradley/USFWS.
Staff from the La Crosse Fish Health Center visited the hatchery as part of a bi-annual fish health inspection. The Fish Health Center provides fish health inspection and diagnostic services for six national fish hatcheries and numerous tribal hatcheries throughout the region. In the spring staff sample hatchery production fish for possible pathogens or diseases. The results of these surveys ensure quality fish being stocked in the fall each year. In addition to hatchery production samples, Genoa provides a variety of fish from the Mississippi River for the fish health center as part of ongoing national wild fish health surveys. These sample collections and surveys allow fisheries managers to prevent and diagnose hatchery and wild populations of fish for pathogens or diseases. These results allow safe transport and stocking of healthy fish throughout many regions.
By: Orey Eckes
Fish health biologist, Eric Leis samples lake sturgeon. Photo Credit: Jadon Motquin/USFWS
Genoa Fish Hatchery relies on volunteers and friends members to accomplish the task of tagging our lake sturgeon. Each sturgeon before stocking is individually tagged by a coded wire tagging machine. This allows biologist to track growth and survival rates after stocking.
Anyone interested in tagging please contact Erica Rasmussen or Darla Wenger (phone: 608-689-2605) or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your help and support for fisheries conservation is much appreciated! Get a chance to hold many of these ancient sturgeon. We will be tagging Monday-Friday from 8 AM-3 PM, starting August 9th and usually lasting until beginning of October or until all sturgeon have been tagged.
Reserve your seat now! Before all the sturgeon are tagged.
By: Orey Eckes
Volunteers: Kathy (pictured left) and Rosie (pictured right) tag sturgeon by Raena Parsons/USFWS