As hustle and bustle from school groups visiting during the spring, summer and fall are winding down, it is a great time for reflection on how our education and outreach programs are going and how to make improvements for next year. We had a great year with over 30 different schools visiting the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. I was also able to attend 25 different community outreach programs set up by partners in the surrounding areas. This allowed me to share Genoa’s mission to recover threatened and endangered aquatic species, restore threatened fish populations, provide fishery resources support to National Wildlife Refuges, Native American tribes, and to provide sport fish to increase recreational opportunities on public lands to 6,870 people! With most of the COVID restrictions now lifted and the Highway 35 road construction completed, we are excited to see even more visitors next year as they travel down the Great River Road. I am still looking to reach more schools during the winter months and let them know that Hatchery’s never shut down and we are developing a winter program. We already have Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout and Lake Trout eggs being cared for. It is also a great time to enjoy a winter hike and or to work on your animal track identification in the snow. We are also looking forward to having the community join us for our annual Kids Ice Fishing Event that will take place in February. Please follow us on Facebook for more details and date of the event. www.facebook.com/GenoaNFH. By: Erica Rasmussen
Big Stone Lake, located on the South Dakota – Minnesota border was once home to abundant numbers of lake sturgeon. Many factors including overharvest and poor water quality led to an extirpated population of lake sturgeon by 1946. Currently South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are partnering to restore historic populations.
In 2014 Genoa National Fish Hatchery joined the restoration efforts by supplying fingerling lake sturgeon at approximately 8 inches of length for stocking in the fall. The fish are offspring of adult lake sturgeon from the Wisconsin River, collected by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The restoration plan calls for the stocking of up to 4,000 fish per year for up to 20 years. This year 3,348 sturgeon were stocked into Big Stone Lake. To date Genoa has stocked 37,513 sturgeon into Big Stone Lake. Surveys by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in the fall of 2016 revealed fish ranging from 16-24 inches. In total 12 lake sturgeon were caught in 6 nets. Surveys from 2017 revealed the biggest sturgeon caught of 25 inches and 3 pounds. In 2018 the biggest sturgeon caught was 32 inches long.
It’s safe to say these fish are growing and doing well. With continued cooperation between agencies the goal of restoring a historic population of lake sturgeon to Big Stone Lake is becoming a reality.
By: Orey Eckes
Our partners from Minnesota DNR passed along a video of a fish assessment they completed on Big Stone Lake, a lake in the Minnesota River watershed. We began at partnership with MNDNR and South Dakota Fish, Game and Parks in 2014 to restore lake sturgeon in the lake. Some exciting results so far! Video showing lake sturgeon being tagged, measured and released back into Big Stone Lake, boundary water of South Dakota and Minnesota. Video credit to MNDNR.
The growing season for most of our fish is over for the year, and they have all been either put in their winter homes in their overwintering ponds, or a few species are kept a watchful eye over the entire winter in several of our culture buildings. The staff has a very slight breather to begin maintenance on our streamside rearing units, nets and fish culture equipment, and then are hard at it again as our cold water species of fish eggs arrive at the hatchery in December and January. These join our lake trout eggs at the station in their perspective separate areas, an isolated to reduce the risk of cross species disease transmission. The lake trout have been on board since early October, arriving from New York and held in quarantine, being a relative unknown as far as fish health status is concerned. These eggs came from the wild and will remain here growing into 10-12 inch fish and experiencing 3 fish health exams before being safely moved to FWS captive broodstock stations. Here they will produce millions of eggs yearly to be stocked as fingerlings to restore lake trout in 4 of the 5 Great Lakes. Our brook trout eggs, received from Iron River (WI) National Fish Hatchery, will be grown to 9 inches and released in Lake Superior to help restore the “coaster” brook trout, which can grow much larger than the inland stream brook trout. Then follows the Rainbow trout, a great sport fish in its own right. Most of the Rainbows are stocked in Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy Army Base and tribal waters to increase sport fishing opportunities. We also save some back for our Youth Fishing and Veterans and Differently-Abled Fishing events. So much for a winter break. The fish keep coming, and we are thankful for the opportunity to contribute to the FWS mission of Conserving the Nations Aquatic Resources for the Continuing Benefit of the American Public.
By: Doug Aloisi
Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout and Lake Trout eggs in a jar and container. Photo credit: USFWS
This year’s cohort of Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly larvae have been counted, photographed for measurement, packed up, and transported to the University of South Dakota for over-winter culture. A total 239 larvae were sent to USD this season, which was an increase from previous year’s production and was just over 40% survival from eggs received at the Hatchery last winter.
The eggs had been collected in the summer of 2021 by project partners in Northern Wisconsin. They were received at Genoa NFH last November and spent the winter in stable temperature cold ‘winter’ culture at the Hatchery. Early this spring, they were warmed up slowly from 3-4°C to spring temperatures that induced hatching.
After hatching, the larvae were kept in individual culture cups and fed zooplankton collected from Hatchery pond water. The larvae did well in cup culture this spring, due in part to a bloom of zooplankton in the Hatchery ponds just as the larvae were hatching and maturing.
After spending most of April and May in culture cups, surviving larvae were transferred to mesh capped PVC tubes called ‘s-cages’, which are housed in flow-through tanks of pond water in the Dragonfly Trailer on the Hatchery grounds. Survivorship was good for the first half of the summer and was even better in the second half of the growing season, with almost 95% of larvae surviving the August to November culture stage.
Mesh-capped PVC culture cages are used for several reasons- to keep individual larvae in known containers while allowing fresh water, oxygen, and zooplankton prey items in, while keeping larger predators out. There are many aquatic organisms that prey upon dragonfly larvae, including other dragonfly larvae. Vernon County is home to ~52 species of dragonflies (check out the Wisconsin Odonata Survey, https://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/ ), many of which are faster growing and more aggressive predators than Hine’s Emerald larvae. Pictures below show a comparison of the Hine’s Emerald larvae that was living inside the culture cage, and the non-target dragonfly species living on the outside of the cage.
Hine’s Emerald larvae in comparison to other faster growing dragonfly larvae that live in the culture systems and Hatchery ponds.
As this year’s cohort of larvae were being packed up at the end of the season, the next cohort had already begun. Eggs collected last summer arrived at the Hatchery and will be kept cold until the spring, when the next hatch is scheduled to being. Watch for updates about this new cohort next year!
By: Beth Glidewell
Genoa National Fish Hatchery was presented with the opportunity to culture lake sturgeon for restoration efforts into the Maumee River (Toledo, Ohio). As part of a multi-agency effort amongst the Toledo Zoo, USFWS, USGS, Ohio DNR, Michigan DNR, University of Toledo and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry lake sturgeon have been reintroduced to the Maumee River since 2018, a tributary of Lake Erie. Historically populations of lake sturgeon were abundant in the river; however they are no longer present. Research has shown that the Maumee River is a strong candidate for lake sturgeon reintroduction, providing suitable habitat for spawning adults and offspring. Southern Lake Huron (Upper St. Clair River) population was used as donor stock for this study. Recently lake sturgeon have been cultured in stream side rearing facilities in multiple locations along rivers that are Great Lakes tributaries to allow for sturgeon to imprint on natal water, with the hope of increasing site fidelity as a returning spawning adult. A sturgeon trailer was deployed near the Toledo Zoo in 2018 to raise 1500 lake sturgeon on Maumee River water and the Genoa National Fish Hatchery will raise 1500 lake sturgeon on hatchery water supply. To date 6,397 lake sturgeon have been stocked from Genoa into the Maumee River. Once fish are 7 inches at both locations, they are tagged with a PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag to monitor future growth and survival. This project calls for paired releases of sturgeon from both locations for 25 years to reach a target self-sustaining population. Adult returns to the river from the stocked population will be monitored to see if sturgeon cultured in a streamside rearing facility exhibit higher stocking site fidelity rates vs. fish cultured at offsite locations (Genoa National Fish Hatchery). In addition, researchers will assess post stocking survival rates between sturgeon cultured in a streamside facility and sturgeon reared in a traditional hatchery. Also, the streamside facility located on the Maumee River (Toledo Zoo) property serves as an exceptional place to engage the public in lake sturgeon restoration. The Toledo zoo incorporates lake sturgeon restoration and the streamside trailer into one of the exhibits open to the public.
By: Orey Eckes
We had a very successful year with the two beehives located at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. The hives produced approximately 10 gallons of honey. A special thank you to the 3rd grade students from Southern Bluffs Elementary School who came out to help with the harvest. Students learned about the importance of pollinators like honeybees. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, bees pollinate an estimated 1/3 of our food crops and up to 90% of wild plants. The students also helped uncap the honey and got the opportunity to hand crank an extractor to release the honey from its frames. To end the experience, the students were able to enjoy the honey they had just spun!
By: Erica Rasmussen
Lots of great conservation stories coming out of New York and Wisconsin this year. Ongoing conservation efforts with the New York Department of Conservation and the New York Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have kept the Genoa staff busy this October. A substantial portion of Genoa’s crew and even a member of the Midwest Fisheries Center in La Crosse WI spent time in October travelling back and forth from Wisconsin to New York to further fisheries restorations in New York and the Midwest. Concurrent egg takes of lake trout eggs in Cayuga Lake, and lake sturgeon restoration efforts in multiple waterways in New York occurred the first two weeks of October of this year.
Jeff Lockington of the Genoa staff was the lead in collecting Cayuga Lake strain lake trout eggs with New York DEC staff yielding eggs of over 100 pair of females. The eggs were shipped or driven back to Genoa to be folded into our quarantine building activities. The lake trout from Cayuga Lake are descendants of Seneca Lake, another lake in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Fish descended from this strain have been more resistant to post stocking sea lamprey predation in the Great Lakes and many spring yearling lake trout are produced annually for stocking each year throughout the Great Lakes system. Eggs brought to Genoa will be quarantined and inspected for any fish health issues for 18 months and 3 formal fish health inspections at the USFWS La Crosse Fish Health Center before release to captive broodstock stations in Michigan and Massachusetts. One year class of this strain is already residing in Genoa’s quarantine building and will be crossed with this new year class when becoming mature in order to increase the genetic contribution of their progeny. It is hoped that this will increase their fitness and survival post stocking to adapt and thrive outside of captivity in the Great Lakes. Also in this month, 2 stocking trips brought over 13,700 lake sturgeon fall fingerlings averaging over 6.25 inches back to the state of New York for ongoing restoration programs. The fish started as eggs taken from the St. Lawrence River in New York in June of this year, which were brought back to Genoa for growout. After a hard summer of growth, they were returned and stocked in state waters. Results from fall New York DEC surveys of last year showed that survey parameters were met in 4 of the states 6 management areas that indicate those areas are being restored. According to state restoration plans, if one more management area can meet these standards the species will meet de-listing criteria on the state’s Threatened and Endangered Species list. Great news for the many sturgeon enthusiasts, both professional and citizen scientists that participate in bringing back this unique species. By: Doug Aloisi
Our mussel biologists spent a few chilly days in autumnal Michigan collecting broodstock recently. Collaborating with the Michigan ES office and biologists from the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center (CERC) meant that more people could cover ground in these Lake Erie tributaries to collect enough brooding females to execute not one, but three projects. Unlike the large mussel beds in many large rivers, mussels are distributed in random pockets in these small streams. This means that a crew looking for mussels might crawl and feel the stream bottom for a quarter of a mile to find the 15 brooding mussels needed for a project. This sometimes makes for rather a cold adventure.
USFWS worker collecting mussels in a river. Photo: USFWS.
Two of those three projects are concerned with the potential impact of contaminants on mussels. These projects will be completed in the lab at CERC, one of the leading labs doing freshwater mussel toxicology research. The third project focuses on returning mussels to Michigan streams and then trying to observe measurable positive changes in water quality and biological activity. The contaminants being assessed are PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of contaminants of emerging concern because of their wide use and unknown impacts to aquatic organisms and because of its long life in the environment (sometimes referred to as a forever chemical), and mercury, a much more widely-recognized contaminant, with known impacts to human health from the 1800’s. What is unknown is its impact on freshwater mussels.
The third project is being designed to hopefully quantify the ecosystem uplift created by the reintroduction or augmentation of mussel populations. Historically many of the great lakes streams had many more mussels, but in some areas anthropogenic declines as a result of industrial pollution and urbanization etc. are beginning to plateau. The plan is to begin to return mussel densities and diversities to historical levels and then to potentially look at changes in nutrient levels, insect and fish communities, or even simple water quality values to see if there are observable changes. This type of project is challenging because the variable environment can result in no observed change, not because the mussels aren’t positively changing the water quality, or repackaging nutrients, but because of increases in nutrients, new sources of pollution or even a year of above average precipitation.
As always, opportunities to work together in the field make for the most-memorable days, and the unexpectedly beautiful suburban streams, colored by fall foliage certainly contributed. We’re looking forward to more days in the field and to rearing the juvenile mussels from the females collected for the toxicology and reintroduction/augmentation projects.
By: Megan Bradley
As it gets close to the end of the growing season at Genoa, we begin to be tempted to look back and
evaluate the year, and review our overall conservation goals worked on. This usually involves not
just the calendar year, but some of our long term conservation actions that we work on with our
partners. Some exciting news over the course of this year included the documented spawning of lake
sturgeon in 3 of the populations that we have been stocking. Conservation departments from
Missouri, Georgia and Minnesota documented lake sturgeon spawning in populations that were either
extirpated before stocking, or in numbers reduced enough to determine that they were close to being
functionally extinct. River systems such as the Red River in Minnesota have not seen lake sturgeon
in those waters since the early 1900’s, and this year large pods of large sturgeon were seen in the act
of spawning. This was a direct result of hatchery stockings that began which Genoa has taken part in
since 2001. We hope to hear more good news soon in Tennessee and New York where lake
sturgeon stockings have resulted in expanding lake sturgeon populations in stocked watersheds and
sturgeon should be approaching spawning age.
This year our mussel biologists have been hard at work on their Recovery programs as well and with
the help of many of our state, federal, and non-government Friends 2 new placements of federally
Endangered Higgins Eye Pearly mussels occurred in a system that is relatively free of the invasive
zebra mussel. The mussels were seen displaying their lures this summer, indicating that they had
fertilized larvae waiting to be attached to their fish host to complete their reproductive cycle. Many
thanks to all our federal, state and public and private participants in this process, including our citizen
scientists that volunteer and support our mission through volunteering to tag, harvest, feed, and lead
our Friends support group. We truly couldn’t walk this walk without you!
By: Doug Aloisi
Schools from the Crawford County area enjoyed a beautiful day out in nature at the Sugar Creek
Bible Camp located near Ferryville, Wisconsin. Over 200 students in grades 5th, 6th and 7th
participated in a series of outdoor education activities for the Youth Conservation Day. The Genoa
National Fish Hatchery participated by setting up a station for students. While visiting the GNHF
station students got the opportunity to learn about the importance of fish conservation, fish
identification, lifecycle of a freshwater mussel, and were given the opportunity to handle a live lake
sturgeon. At other stations the students got to observe an electrofishing demonstration, collect
aquatic invertebrates to learn about water quality, and about birds of prey. I truly believe these
hands-on outdoor education activities are very important for students and provide an excellent
platform to introduce them to careers in the natural resource fields. Judging by the students smiles, I
would say that they truly enjoyed the Youth Conservation Day! By: Erica Rasmussen