Staff from Jordan River and Iron River National Fish Hatchery and Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office collecting Cisco Eggs on Lake Huron. Credit: USFWS
Recently staff from the Jordan River and Iron River National Fish Hatchery (NFH) and Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office was out on Lake Huron, near the Les Cheneaux Islands collecting cisco eggs for current restoration projects. 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 and enhance cisco populations the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has partnered with multiple agencies to begin to create a broodstock to assist in the reintroduction of lake herring and whitefish in the Great Lakes. Ciscos 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 for the Service has been to recover native species to provide a better balance in food-web structure and function. Eggs were collected from Lake Huron during the month of November and shipped to Genoa NFH for incubation in the current regional isolation facility. Samples from the parents were taken and sent to La Crosse Fish Health Center for disease inspection. Once the eggs arrived on station they were disinfected and incubated at water temperatures between 45-46 degrees Fahrenheit in an insulated recirculating system. They are currently incubating and being monitored for development. As the eggs begin to hatch, an equal representative sample of fry from each pair of parents will be transferred to circular culture tanks for grow out. Once the fish begin actively feeding they will be offered a combination of live brine shrimp and dry commercial diets.
Insulated egg incubation system and Cisco
eggs. Credit: USFWS
As the eggs are developing and final construction is wrapping up on the new isolation building, maintenance mechanics Zach Kumlin and Jeff Lockington are adding back up life supports systems and constructing automatic feeding systems for brine shrimp. The automatic feeders will allow biologists to set a timer that will dispense feed into the tanks throughout the day. This is essential because these fish grow better when they are offered small amounts of food spread across intervals during the day and will also support fish health by reducing human interaction in return minimizing stress and maximizing growth.
These fish will remain in the isolation facility until clearing three separate disease inspections by the La Crosse Fish Health Center. If the ciscos clear disease inspection after approximately 18 months, they will be transferred to Jordan River NFH in Michigan. These fish will then be used as captive broodstock in the national fish hatchery system. Future re- introductions of native prey species into the Great Lakes will strengthen food web dynamics and increase availability of food for apex predator fish such as lake trout.
Youth Outdoor Fest will be held at Veterans Freedom Park, Clinton Street, La Crosse, WI Saturday, July 9, 2016 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM The La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, Friends of the Upper Mississippi, and La Crosse Park and Recreation will host the 8th Annual Youth Outdoor Fest at Veterans Freedom Park on Clinton Street in La Crosse, Wisconsin on July 9, 2016 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. The event is free, equipment will be provided, and children will receive a chance to win one of 100 rod and reel combinations. Last year over 1,500 people attended the Youth Outdoor Fest with hands on learning experiences for the whole family. This year nearly 40 exhibitors and experts will attend from federal, state and local agencies, as well as local businesses and environmental clubs. Guests include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, La Crosse Park and Recreation, Chaseburg Rod and Gun Club, Trout Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Coulee Hunting Dogs, Kicking Bear, Bluff Country Tale Spinners, Wisconsin Trappers Association, La Crosse Area Bee Keepers, Fox 25/48, Lumberjack Enterprises from Stillwater, Minnesota, and many others. Kids will have the opportunity to shoot a bow/BB gun, drive a boat, paddle a kayak or canoe, try log rolling, ride a pontoon, cast a fly rod, learn how to clean fish, see fishery biologists electrofishing, learn how to identify furs, play games and much more, all in one day. For more information, please contact Heidi Keuler (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) at 608-783-8417 or Jay Odegaard (La Crosse Park & Rec) at 608-789-7593.
By: Aaron Von Eschen and Jeff Lockington
A female lake sturgeon collected during walleye spawning Photo credit: TJ Turner
Warming weather in the spring triggered staff at Genoa National Fish Hatchery to deploy walleye nets in an annual effort to collect walleye and sauger eggs for the upcoming production year. Roughly 50 hoop nets were set in late March to begin collecting ripe females. It did not take long to determine the staff had set nets just in time as walleyes were beginning to spawn. Generally the staff spawns walleye across an approximate three week period in early to mid-April as female walleye begin to ripen and eggs begin to flow. Usually there is no waiting for the male walleye to get ready as they are eager and willing. Spring rains and snow melt helped the staff this year collect walleyes as the increased flow pushed walleye closer to the river banks where nets were set. This was a welcome relief after last year’s low water made it difficult to find the fish. Water temperature was a different story however, instead of a gradual increase, the water temps fluctuated up and down and triggered spawning ready females to turn on and off and made it slow for females being held to ripen up and release eggs. This can present a difficult challenge as unripe females are being held; male walleyes can “dry up” toward the end of the season meaning less milt is produced making it difficult to fertilize eggs that are collected later in the season. A daily trip usually consisted of getting on the river right away and lifting nets. It takes staff about 3-4 hours depending on weather conditions to hoist all 50 nets and check them for walleye and clear by catch. The most exciting part of a day of walleye spawning can be when an unusual species shows up in the nets. This year staff caught a female lake sturgeon that weighed an estimated 60+ pounds. By catch mostly consists of yellow perch, white bass, and freshwater drum so seeing a big lake sturgeon was a bit of a surprise for staff members. Once all the nets were checked, staff headed to the live box to check females being held there to determine if they were ripe and ripe females collected that day were spawned. Eggs were stripped from females into a stainless dish and once completed the females were immediately released back into the river. Males are then used to fertilize the eggs. Well water is then used to activate the sperm and stirred for one to two minutes. A mixture of bentonite clay and well water is then added to the bucket to ensure that eggs to do no clump and stick together, this could result in suffocation of the eggs. After two minutes in the clay mixture eggs are then rinsed with well water and placed into a larger bucket containing an iodine mixture to ensure they are disinfected before returning the hatchery.
Once at the hatchery eggs are rinsed of the disinfectant and placed into hatching jars. The following day, after the eggs have water hardened, they are then enumerated to determine how many eggs were collected. This process is repeated each day during the spawn until wild fish have completed spawning at which point the nets are collected and returned to the hatchery to be mended and repaired and used again the next year. All said and done just shy of 600 walleyes were spawned with almost 200 of them being females. Approximately 25 million eggs were collected this year, with good spawning success staff was able to ship excess eggs to state and tribal partners while still meeting the stations production requests for stocking and future freshwater mussel hosts and allowing for over 2.2 million hatched fry to be returned to the Mississippi River. Walleye are the host fish for the black sandshell mussel, an endangered species or a species of concern for several states. In an effort to supplement existing populations or reintroduce black sandshell mussels to various state waters, the walleye are a key species at Genoa NFH.
By: Erin Johnson
Lake surgeon season has begun and Genoa! Over the past few weeks staff from Genoa has been traveling to various locations to collect and spawn lake sturgeon eggs from Shawano Dam, near Green Bay, Wisconsin Dells Dam and on the Rainy River at the First Nations Tribe Reservation in Ontario Canada. Ripe female eggs were collected into a stainless dish where they were then fertilized by the males. Once collected the eggs are distributed into 3 or 4 separate buckets were active sperm from 3 or 4 males are added. Using more than 1 male at a time will help ensure genetic diversity. Once blended a mixture of bentonite clay and well water are added and stirred for 30 minutes. This clay mixture is used to prevent eggs from clumping and sticking together. After the clay bath the fertilized eggs are disinfected using an iodine solution and returned to the hatchery. Upon arriving at the hatchery, an inventory is taken and eggs are put into egg jars where they are treated and turned until they hatch. Sturgeon “babies”, also known as fry, are initially fed a diet of brine shrimp. As they grow they are moved onto a krill and bloodworm diet. Once the fry have grown to a couple inches they are tagged and prepped for distribution. Sturgeon are tagged using a small coded metallic wire with each strain assigned its own code. These tags help to identify where the sturgeon was reared when caught for future surveys. Once all sturgeon has been tagged, staff will travel with the sturgeon to their new homes. Sturgeons are stocked into various rivers and streams in efforts to restore and maintain populations. For the start of the 2016 lake sturgeon season Genoa is currently hatching approximately 130,500 eggs. Stay tuned for summer updates and send offs in the fall!
Collecting sperm out of a male lake sturgeon from the Shawano Dam.
Collecting eggs out a female lake sturgeon from the Shawano Dam.
Blending fertilized eggs in a bentonite clay mixture
First lake sturgeon fry of 2016!
The US Fish and Wildlife Service considers the monarch butterfly a flagship species and has made monarch conservation a national priority. The Genoa National Fish Hatchery is working to create and enhance existing habitats for monarchs by planting milkweed and other nectar plants on 75 acres of hatchery property. Last fall milkweed seeds were removed from pods at the hatchery and planted this spring by hatchery staff. Increasing essential habitat will promote the health of both larvae and adult monarch butterflies. Once seeds are planted the second step has been engaging people in monarch conservation through community involvement and school partnerships. Staff members from Genoa visit local schools for in class lessons on monarch butterfly conservation.Teachers from Summit Environmental School and Southern Bluffs Elementary (La Crosse, WI) have also incorporated monarch butterfly conservation into their science curriculum at school. These lessons are on monarch butterfly life history and habitat enhancement and focus on the role students can play in monarch conservation both at school and at home.
During the fall of 2015 students helped hatchery staff remove seeds from milkweed pods as part of a hands on in class lesson. The majority of the seeds were planted on hatchery grounds and a portion remained in the classroom. Students and teachers worked together and planted individual seeds in recycled milk cartons and grew the plants in the classroom under heat lamps. Once the plants were between 4-6 inches they were transported to the hatchery where students spent the day planting and enhancing habitat on hatchery grounds as part of the Genoa Fish Hatchery Outdoor Classroom. In the future hatchery staff plans on providing guidance on increasing school yard habitats for monarch butterflies. Through these school partnerships hatchery staff are looking forward to growing the next generation of monarch butterfly conservationists.
By: Orey Eckes
April 12, 2016
What would you do if someone gave you $36 million – after you picked your jaw up off the ground, I mean?That’s our happy predicament: Last year, nearly 40,000 volunteers donated 1.5 million hours, valued at more than $36 million, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those combined hours equal 681 full-time employees. The Service has a workforce of only a little over 9,000 employees, so those volunteer hours are a mighty big gift.
We have an opportunity, however modest, to give all our volunteers a huge THANK YOU this week during National Volunteer Week.
INTERESTED? Get more information on volunteering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It is almost impossible to list all the activities our volunteers help us with – everything probably describes it best – but here is a brief list: banding a bird, greeting a visitor, leading a birding tour, helping with a wildlife survey, sustaining a garden, planting native plants, pulling invasive weeds, working on various maintenance tasks and more.
Volunteers came out for February’s annual mussel-cage repair day at Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin to help repair our old mussel cages and get them ready for the upcoming production season. After a couple seasons in the river, mussel cages need refurbishing. Genoa staff treated the volunteers to a lunch of hamburgers with all the trimmings. It is a small price to pay for the amount of hard work done by our dedicated group of volunteers. Photo by USFWS
BY DOUG ALOISI, GENOA NFH
Megan Bradley arrives at Genoa NFH. Credit: USFWS
Megan Bradley, formerly the Southwest Virginia Freshwater Mussel Recovery Coordinator of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fishes, has joined us at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) as our new freshwater mussel propagation biologist. We are very excited to have her join our team as she brings a depth of experience in intensive mussel propagation systems with her that we plan to use in the “Clam Palace”, our freshwater mussel propagation facility.
Genoa’s mussel program is a relatively new program, beginning in 2000, and originally concentrated on extensive mussel culture. This method focused on the placement of fish that have been “infested” with mussel larvae, or glochidia, and caged over suitable mussel habitat. As the field of mussel propagation has progressed, more intensive methods of mussel culture have been developed. These involve controlling temperature, water quality, and feed availability in specially designed culture units that typically recirculate or use standing aerated water. Megan did her Masters of Science work at Missouri State University with Dr. Chris Barnhart, one of the pioneers of modern freshwater mussel propagation. Some of the very systems that Dr. Barnhart developed have either been put into use or will be put into operation soon in order for us to further the station mission of freshwater mussel conservation. Megan will be working closely with Nathan Eckert, our senior mussel propagation biologist, on the many ongoing Recovery and Restoration projects that Genoa is working on.
Please join us in welcoming Megan to the Midwest!
BY EMY MONROE, WHITNEY GENETICS LAB
On the left, Zeb, Nick Berndt, Mai Yang, and Erica are checking out the new code Katie updated so they will know how to analyze the black carp data as it is generated this week. On the right, Kyle Von Ruden, Maren Tuttle-Lau, and Nick Grueneis are loading reactions in the automated liquid handling systems. Credit: Emy Monroe, USFWS
The Whitney Genetics Laboratory (WGL) team added three new employees this winter, and everyone welcomed the extra hands and creative minds to the work group. Our new team members come to us from three different states: Erica Mize moved here from South Dakota, Katherine (Katie) Bockrath moved from Georgia, and Zebadiah (Zeb) Woiak was back in Wisconsin before starting at the lab.
Each of our new employees brings a different skill set to our lab, and they have already diversified the analyses conducted in the lab and introduced new methods to streamline efforts, saving money and time. They got to know each other and the rest of the WGL team by working over the winter to optimize methods for genetic identification of wild-caught fish eggs and larvae.
These samples are collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field offices or state partners via ichthyoplankton sampling events as part of the unified efforts against Asian carp in the Chicago Area Waterway, the Upper Mississippi River, and tributaries of both systems. WGL can now provide our partners species identification services by collecting sequences from two different genes and using those sequences to compare results to an international sequence data base. Of course, they would not be ready to go unless they were ready to help process the thousands of environmental DNA (eDNA) samples as part of the early detection and surveillance programs for bighead and silver carp.
They spent a few weeks in training with our experienced team members, and this past week, they passed their lab exams and demonstrated proficiency in following the procedures outlined in the Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). Thus, they are “QAPP-certified” – and just in time, eDNA samples should begin arriving in a couple of weeks!
The lab has also been busy working with our partner lab at the US Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center to validate and test new eDNA markers for Black Carp. It has taken a couple of different field trips by our dedicated Carterville and La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices to find field positive samples to use in these validation studies. Last week, the second set of field samples were extracted, and everyone was busy in the lab on a Monday morning, setting up real-time polymerase chain reactions and learning how to analyze the data with freshly updated code on the computer. We are all looking forward to a busy and productive field season!