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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. 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
Summer mussel propagation at the MARS trailer
The MARS (Mobile Aquatic Rearing System) mussel culture trailer is set up and running for the 2021 season at Blackhawk Park, a US Army Corps of Engineers facility just south of Genoa. This location allows us to securely park the trailer on the banks of Blackhawk Slough, and to pump river water directly up to the trailer, where it is filtered, UV zapped, and routed to 25 rectangular flow-through tanks. Each tank houses up to 250 sub-adult mussels, each about 1 inch long, or five thousand (or more!) newly transformed juvenile mussels that are about the size of a grain of sand.
Each year is different when dealing with water levels- after a couple of years of delayed trailer deployment due to high water and last year’s surprisingly ‘normal’ water levels (the only thing normal about 2020!), this year we’ve been dealing with low water situations. Low water helped simplify set-up (a big thank you to Jeff and Zach!), but reduced flow and connectivity to the main channel reduced water quality, especially dissolved oxygen in Blackhawk Slough, and reduces flow capacity from the pump. Just as we were considering starting contingency plans, much needed rains came and raised the water levels back to functional levels in mid-June.
This year’s MARS trailer group includes two sub-adult cohorts of Higgins eye, a group of Spectaclecase mussels propagated by the MN DNR, Fatmucket, and small cohorts of Sheepnose and Lilliput mussels. The newly transformed 2021 cohorts began in late June, and now include Pocketbook, Black Sandshell, Hickorynut, Lilliput, and two sub-groups of Higgins eye, including fifty thousand -and counting- juveniles produced from parents in the St Croix River. Watch for pictures of these juveniles on Genoa’s Facebook page, and an article later in the year reporting their growing season progress!
By: Beth Glidewell
Newly transformed Higgins Eye that will spend their first growing season in MARS tanks. Each juvenile is ~0.3 mm long (or about 1/80th of an inch) when they go into the tanks at the start of the season. Photo: Beth Glidewell
Dairyland Power Cooperative has been a valued partner in conservation with the fish hatchery for the past several decades. Their commitment to our conservation mission manifested itself recently by supplying an accessible fishing dock to one of our ponds in order to hold targeted fishing events and supplying a peregrine falcon display in our newly added Interpretive Center. The exhibit highlights their conservation work with this species. Recently during a scheduled Dairyland employee tour of the new Center, it was suggested that there was also an interesting bit of local history that would add to the Centers mission of pointing out local stories of historical interest. In fact, two topics emerged that really piqued our interest to use the Center to point out historical and conservation stories of the area. The first was to capture the story of the construction and final disposition of the Genoa’s prototype LaCrosse boiling water nuclear reactor, the first in the nation.
This pictorial story was compiled by Dana Bolwerk, Communications Specialist for Dairyland. The exhibit is currently in the local history wing in the Center. The next addition was to add a live camera feed of nesting adult peregrine falcons on the smokestack chimney of Dairyland’s Alma Wisconsin Power Plant. The nest and its two adults fledged 4 birds this year alone. During the off nesting periods the story of Dairyland’s Peregrine Falcon restoration efforts are described in a PowerPoint Display. We could not have added this exhibit without the help of Dairyland’s Environmental Biologist Ben Campbell and IT Specialist Mark Abitz.
We are very pleased with the addition of these fascinating local stories and feel that they truly help the Great River Road traveler understand the intrinsic history and conservation stories of the Upper Mississippi River region. Please come in and check them out! By: Doug Aloisi
The last couple years at Genoa NFH, we’ve been experimenting with different methods of growing out juvenile freshwater mussels along with Largemouth Bass in productions ponds. This field is relatively new without a lot of past research to draw from. The pond environment is quite different than the river environment that our riverine species are accustomed to, but we’ve had some successes to go along with the failures. We’ve been able to point to temperature and pH as two potential water quality variables that may have limited success in the past. To combat that, we’ve installed real-time monitoring instruments that are able to transmit data wirelessly to our computers. This will allow us to respond more quickly as issues arise to mitigate for those issues and hopefully keep our baby mussels happy. Stay tuned for the next chapter of this story this fall!
By: Nick Bloomfield
Zach installing the control box at Pond 14 North