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, 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
Great River Road Interpretive Center will be opening its doors for the first time on June 1, 2018. Credit: USFWS
Three miles south of the small village of Genoa, Wisconsin straddling either side of the Great River Road Scenic Byway, otherwise known as Wisconsin State Highway 35, sits the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. Founded in 1932, the hatchery has played a major role in restoring a variety of aquatic species from imperiled mussels, to lake sturgeon and even the rare Hine’s emerald dragonfly. They’ve also been focused on educating people about the value of the Mississippi River, which flows just west of the hatchery. No Genoa National Fish Hatchery is opening the doors of its new home to help visitors learn more about the importance of the river and the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Great River Road Interpretive Center’s grand opening is scheduled for June 1 at 10:00 a.m. at Genoa National Fish Hatchery. The project has been almost five years in the making and began in August 2013 with a groundbreaking ceremony on hatchery grounds. The center focuses on the history and natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River, highlighting education of aquatic wildlife and the Battle of Bad Axe, the final battle of the Black Hawk War fought in 1832, which occurred just south of the hatchery.
The project is unique in that it was partially funded by a National Scenic Byways grant, which makes Genoa the first national fish hatchery to be awarded Department of Transportation, Federal Highway National Scenic Byways funds. Annually, Genoa National Fish Hatchery hosts approximately 14,000 visitors and is open year round. It is one of six national fish hatcheries in the Midwest. Why not add Genoa National Fish Hatchery and the Great River Road Interpretive Center or one of our other national fish hatcheries to your list of places to visit on this summer’s family vacation?
BY MONICA BLASER, REGIONAL OFFICE – EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
Mudpuppy eggs laid on the under side of a piece of plywood. Credit: USFWS
A mudpuppy ready for use as a salamander mussel host. Credit: USFWS
BY NATHAN ECKERT, GENOA NFH
The salamander mussel is the only North American freshwater mussel that uses something other than a fish as its larval host. The mudpuppy, a large salamander, is the known host of the salamander mussel, and they can be difficult to collect for use in mussel propagation. Through partnerships with the USGS we were able to acquire a population of adult mudpuppy to use as captive broodstock for propagation. In June 2016 we collected eggs from a successful spawn of our captive broodstock in one of the hatchery ponds. We then rolled the eggs in an egg jar as we do for walleye or trout until they hatched. From there the young continued to develop and were given a diet of brine shrimp until they were large enough to eat frozen bloodworms. Their diet has consisted solely of frozen bloodworms ever since, with the exception of a small batch of crayfish after pond harvest last fall.For the last year they have been held in a recirculating system in the mussel building at a constant temperature of 70° Fahrenheit. Over that time the animals have constantly gained about two grams of weight each per month. In fish culture we generally think of weight as the number of fish per pound, and using that metric our mudpuppies are currently at 10 per pound. The reason that we’ve raised this batch of mudpuppy is for them to serve as hosts for propagation of the salamander mussel at Genoa NFH. Salamander mussel glochidia attach to the gills and skin of the mudpuppy and transform from larvae to juveniles over the course of a few weeks in the spring. Last year we felt that the young mudpuppies were too small to serve as effective hosts, but this year they will be the focal point of our restoration efforts. It took a year to gather the broodstock and ultimately two additional years to grow the animals, but now we are ready to take our salamander mussel restoration efforts to the next level. Not all mussel restoration projects take this much planning and effort, but in unique cases it is good to know that we have the ability to solve an issue like access to the suitable host.
The weather outside wasn’t quite frightful, but it was coolish for a Wisconsin winter this February 3rd for the Genoa WI) National Fish Hatchery’s annual Kids Ice Fishing Day. The event, sponsored by our shared Friends Group with the Midwest Fisheries Center (the Friends of the Upper Miss), has sponsored this event and our spring Kids Fishing Day for over a decade now. The event has grown from a small event of less than 100 people, to a much anticipated outdoor extravaganza with 648 people attending!
Three hundred and thirty children ages 5-12 participated in the fishing event, with the majority of them catching their 3 fish limit of rainbow trout. Lots of smiles were on hand, as some children caught their first fish through the ice. This is a great family event also, as parents and guardians are invited to help mentor their child as they learn to ice fish. A warming tent and plenty of hot chocolate was supplied to keep the participants comfortable, and after the fishing was done a light lunch was supplied to kids and adults alike. The food and drink was generously supplied and served by our Friends group. Genoa NFH and Midwest Fisheries Center staff were also on hand to supply bait and ice fishing gear and offer up some ice fishing safety tips and ice fishing techniques to help the kids be successful and safe.
Judging by the size of the smiles at the end of the day, it looked like we have some new ice fishing enthusiasts in the making, and may just have made a family memory or two that will be cherished and revisited in the upcoming years. Hopefully a seed for loving the outdoors and desiring to preserve it will grow and be passed along to this next generation of conservationists as well.
By Doug Aloisi
Thanks so much for all of your hard work in the preparation and execution of the Kids Ice Fishing Day at Genoa NFH on Saturday February 3 this year.
We had 648 attendees, volunteers, Friends and staff from the 3 La Crosse area Fisheries Offices at the event, the largest attendance so far. To top this off most of the promotion for the event was contained to social media or just word of mouth. Included in this number were 330 children, our targeted audience. Many smiles were witnessed and everyone that attended caught at least one fish.
Thanks again for all that you do for our Mississippi Basin fish and wildlife resources and for helping us put the love of the outdoors into the next generation through events like these!
Doug Aloisi,Genoa National Fish Hatchery
While winter settles in at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) spring planning kicks into high gear. In many professions, the arrival of winter can bring about a slower pace but at the hatchery there is no time to slow down. Planning for the upcoming production cycle begins almost immediately after the previous fish go out the door. It is important for staff at Genoa NFH to prepare and plan to make sure all of the appropriate pieces are in place. This entails prepping culture buildings for incoming eggs, repairing nets for spawning activities, and compiling fish requests from tribal, federal, and state partners. Biologists at the hatchery send out fish request forms to all partners which compile their fish needs and report them back to the hatchery staff.
This allows the hatchery to determine pond space and rearing tanks needed to make sure these requests can be met. In the event that Genoa NFH does not raise the fish that partners sometimes need we can help coordinate partners with others to help find the fish they are after. The staff also attends various fish meetings where requests can be shared with one another. This process allows Genoa NFH to gain access to fish that are not normally raised on station.
Some good examples are the acquisition of Golden Shiners and Mudpuppies that are used for mussel propagation. All incoming or outgoing fish are passed through a rigorous series of fish health examinations to ensure that no possible pathogens are passed among stations and all partners are receiving certified healthy fish.
All this is going on during the time we are collecting and caring for eggs from our fall spawning species such as lake herring, brook and rainbow trout. These species hatch out in the winter months and will need special care and attention to ensure that they acclimate to commercial starter diets, and begin their cycle of life.
By Aaron Von Eschen
In October of 2017 USFWS hatchery staff from Genoa National Fish Hatchery(OreyEckes) and Iron River National Fish Hatchery (Brandon Keesler) partnered with Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office staff (Henry Quinlan and Evan Boone) to collect coaster brook trout eggs from Isle Royale (Tobin Harbor).
Fyke nets were set daily to collect adult spawning coaster brook trout from historical spawning locations. As the fish swim along the shore they are guided into the net. Nets are checked daily until the desired number of adult spawning pairs is collected.
Biological data is collected from all the coaster brook trout that are captured in the nets. This data helps fisheries managers better manage and assess the population.
Length and weight data is collected to understand growth rates in the wild and determine the age of the fish.
Each coaster brook trout was also PIT tagged. These tags help track individual fish movement and growth. These tags give each fish an unique tag number making them easier to identify when recaptured.
Eggs were collected from 20 females and milt from 40 males to create a brood stock with 40 families. The eggs were transported back to the Genoa National Fish Hatchery for incubation.
Eggs were collected from 20 females and milt from 40 males to create a brood stock with 40 families. The eggs were transported back to the Genoa National Fish Hatchery for incubation.
Currently the eggs are over a month old and now have eye spots. They will remain at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery until they are about 10 inches before they are transferred to the Iron River National Fish Hatchery to be used as a future brood stock.
By Orey Eckes
The Genoa National Fish Hatchery’s mission at its inception in 1932 was to provide sport fish for area waters, but with the advent of the Endangered Species Act in 1975, our mission has shifted to include the recovery of endangered aquatic species. Genoa also collaborates with several state and federal hatcheries along with a commitment to providing support to federally recognized tribes to assist in their conservation and resource management programs. Genoa helps tribes to restore native species and to manage fish and mussel species. Currently Genoa is also working to recover 5 Federally listed mussel species including the Higgins eye, Winged Maple Leaf, Sheepnose, Snuffbox and Spectaclecase. Our mussel biologists propagate these species, in addition to other species, to be released back to their native habitat. We also occasionally work on NRDA (Natural Resources Damage Assessment) projects in assessing and mitigating damages done to mussel populations. With the help of our mussel biologists Genoa has produced 14.7 million mussels spanning 17 species.
In addition to endangered mussels Genoa also aims to help in the recovery of the Lake Sturgeon, which is a listed species in several states, coaster brook trout, and lake trout. Genoa’s Lake Sturgeon program peaks in the summer months.
Eggs are brought to the hatchery where they will hatch and grow to approximately 6 inches where they are then tagged with a coded wire and distributed to various locations.Our longest trip for Lake Sturgeon distribution is the St. Lawrence River in New York.
The coaster brook trout are raised for restoration purposes in the Grand Portage Tribal Reservation in Minnesota in Lake Superior tributaries. Last but not least the lake trout are raised in our quarantine facility where they live for 18 months until they are determined free of any fish pathogens, and then distributed to captive brood stock hatcheries to produce eggs for restoration programs in the Great Lakes. All our fish on station go through a rigorous series of health certifications. Genoa has also recently added a new endangered species to culture, the Hines Emerald Dragonfly.
In conjunction with researchers from University of South Dakota we are working to improve the survival of the Dragonfly in its larval state. Larvae are transferred to their natural habitat, specifically in the Des Plaines Illinois area, where they emerge and hopefully are able to live out their lives naturally. In addition to our commitment to the recovery of several species, Genoa also aims to educate the next generation by hosting various educational programs allowing area youth to enjoy the outdoors and get an up close and personal view of our target species.
By Erin Johnson
BY DOUG ALOISI, GENOA NFH
Marking Cisco with a Coded wire tag. Credit: USFWS
The cisco (the fish formerly known as lake herring), is known for not only being a historically important commercial fish species, but also an important forage species in the Great Lakes. Many native species such as the lake trout depended heavily on this species in their diets. Throughout the Great Lakes cisco populations have been on the decline due to overfishing and competition with introduced species such as the alewife. Alewife introductions were harmful to Great Lakes cisco populations due to direct competition for food, and harmful to predator populations due to alewives carrying high levels of an enzyme called thiaminase in their bodies, which results in poor egg survival to fish that prey on them. Great Lakes fisheries scientists have placed a high priority on rebuilding cisco stocks due to its value as a prey species for many of the valuable sport and commercially exploited predator species in the lakes, and to possibly increase egg survival in apex predator species in the Great Lakes. In the fall of 2016, US Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries offices in Michigan and Wisconsin banded together to collect eggs from northern Lake Huron to begin pilot efforts to learn how to culture the species, and possibly develop a disease free future brood stock to use for a disease free egg source. Eggs were brought to the Genoa National Fish Hatchery quarantine facility, to be reared for 16-18 months and three fish health inspections to ensure that the fish can be transferred safely to other Service captive brood stock stations. The resulting fry soon outgrew their homes and with more than enough to begin the first brood line, 10,000 4.5 inch cisco became surplus.
This first small lot of fish became a good pilot program to see if expected culture practices would be adaptable to large scale restoration efforts in existing facilities currently used as lake trout production facilities. Methods of mass marking were tried as well as long distance hauling and offshore release methods on this sensitive species of fish. The physiological effects of marking and transportation were also measured to determine whether these methods were suitable in large scale efforts. Results are being compared in order to make recommendations on hauling densities and how to reduce stress through the culture, marking and transportation cycle. Through these preliminary studies, it is hoped that methods used may be beneficial to our sister hatcheries as they begin large scale production efforts in the fall of 2017, for targeted restoration areas in Lake Huron.
August of 2017 saw the start of a long term project releasing Higgins’ eye mussels into the Chippewa River. Isn’t this just more of the same in mussel releases you ask? Hardly, because Higgins’ eye have been extirpated from this river for decades. The Chippewa is a great place to start a new population of Higgins’ eye mussels because it’s at a relatively low risk of invasion by zebra mussels and is occupied by other rare mussel species including the sheepnose and recently reintroduced winged mapleleaf. What does a mussel release look like? A bit like the crowd gathered around an invisible finish line. A grid 10 meters long and one meter tall was laid on the river bottom and used to keep the mussels at a steady abundance. Ten people, biologists, managers and volunteers wearing masks and snorkels, each placed four mussels in their square before flipping the grid over and over and over until all of the mussels were released. Every mussel was tagged with a small piece of plastic with a specific color and number in the weeks before so when they are found again they can be identified; 100 had passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags attached to their shells. Each of these tags will help us look at the success of starting the mussel population here. Looking forward from 2017, many more Higgins’ eye mussels will need to be released into the Chippewa River system in order to create a population there that can survive without regular addition of more mussels. To this end a team of biologists from Genoa Fish Hatchery, Region 3 Ecological Services Office, the Wisconsin Depart-ment of Natural Resources and the Midwest Fish-eries Center spent a day in the Chippewa looking for more sites with many different mussel species, young mussels and good numbers of species that use the same hosts as Higgins’ eye and were very successful. Four additional places were found and plans are already in the works for a 2018 release at the site closest to this year’s release. By Megan Bradley
Clockwise from top: Volunteers, U.S.FWS staff and WI DNR staff turning over the 1 meter grid for releasing Higgins’eye into the Chippewa River; Genoa National Fish Hatchery Staff and WI DNR staff scouting for new release locations for Higgins’eye in the Chippewa River; Hallprint and PIT tagged Higgins’eye mussels before release into the Chippewa, (notice the natural differences in color of their shells).
The Friends of the Upper Mississippi celebrated the beauty of our river through concert with performances by local musicians Mike Caucutt and Eddie Allen. The event was held at Chad Erickson Park in La Crosse on July 26th. Ryan Cornett from Senator Tammy Baldwin’s staff updated us on legislation affecting the local resources and agency managers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff were on hand with exhibits and to provide information. The goal of this event was to introduce people of all ages to the great outdoors, raise awareness of the environmental risks that face the Upper Mississippi every day, what people can do to aid the Friends’ efforts and to enjoy a night at one of La Crosse’s newest parks.
Admission to the event was free and a meal was provided.