Some exciting personnel shifts at the Genoa (WI) station occurred over the winter and as we approach our spring growing season. Orey Eckes was promoted to Assistant project leader leaving a vacancy in the lead biologist position. Nick Bloomfield, currently a fish biologist at the Genoa station since 2019, competed for and received a well deserved promotion to station lead biologist. Nick came to us from the Midwest Fisheries Center in LaCrosse (WI) where he was hired by now retired project leader Pam Thiel in 2011.
He worked for the LaCrosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office first as a biological technician, and then converting to fish biologist. Nick has demonstrated to work well within and beyond our agency, serving as the federal coordinator for such projects as the Red River MN lake sturgeon restoration efforts involving the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the White Earth and Red Lake tribes of Minnesota and the Rainy River First Nation Tribe of Ontario Canada. He has managed our pond program well these past 3 years, seeing an increase in the amount of walleye production going to both host fish for Endangered Freshwater Mussel Recovery and tribal and state conservation partners. His new responsibilities will include managing our Pathways internship enrollees and Youth Conservation Corps programs and being responsible for all pond production and management stockings, including distribution records and fish population management and growth records. Congratulations and welcome to the Jungle Nick!
By: Doug Aloisi
Nick collecting fish out of a pond. Photo: Erica Rasmussen/USFWS.
Mid-winter is typically the slowest culture season at the hatchery, but that’s also when the Mussel Culture Building is at its most full. During the summer and fall growing season, we’re busy producing and culturing juvenile mussels in the MARS trailer at Blackhawk Park, in collaboration with staff and volunteers with the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, and in cages in GNFH ponds and other bodies of water. But at the end of the growing season, all of the newly produced mussels that weren’t large enough to be stocked into rivers are brought to the mussel building for winter culture. These juvenile and young ‘sub-adult’ mussels, which often number in the thousands, are kept in a flow-through system of rearing pans or in floating baskets in a raceway.
The mussel building in the winter. Photo: Beth Glidewell/USFWS.
Photo: Fully occupied Rearing Pan System, with flow-through pond water delivered to each pan. Photo credit: Beth Glidewell/USFWS.
Well water from other points at the hatchery still flows through ponds and culture buildings throughout the winter, providing the mussel building with ‘naturalized’ pond water at environmental temperatures (currently about 38-40°F). This pond water contains sufficient algal and bacterial nutrients to sustain mussels acclimated to winter temperatures. Maintaining these cultures through the winter involves weekly to bi-weekly cleaning of the pans, and daily checks that there is sufficient flow to each pan. With Wisconsin winter temperatures outside and a heated building, there is a balance of keeping the cold water flowing through the system—not freezing in the pipes or flow insufficient to keep the system from warming to inside room temperatures. It is a team effort to maintain this water supply, keep pumps operating, pipes unfrozen, and filter screens unclogged.
In addition to juvenile and sub-adult mussels, adult female mussels that were collected last fall to be used as next season’s broodstock are housed over winter in a raceway in the Mussel Building, too. Some mussel species are considered ‘long-term brooders’, where their natural reproductive pattern is to spawn in the late summer or fall and hold the eggs that develop into larvae the female’s marsupial gills until the spring when natural infestation of host fish would occur just as waters are warming. The Federally Endangered Higgin’s Eye Pearlymussel is one of a number of mussels that follow this pattern. For mussel production, we use this natural timing to collect gravid females in the fall when river conditions are conducive to SCUBA diving or snorkeling, house them over winter, and have viable glochidia at hand early in the spring, when it’s seasonally time to inoculate host fish, but river conditions (with variable spring thaw influences) are likely not as conducive to SCUBA as they were in the fall. Not all mussel species are long-term brooders, short term brooders such as the Federally Endangered Sheepnose and Winged Mapleleaf require temporally very specific collection efforts in mid-summer and early fall, respectively.
Maintenance of these winter cultures will continue through the winter and early spring, until growing season culture system can be set up in late May or June, when spring floodwaters begin to recede.
By: Beth Glidewell
Photo: Overwintering broodstock mussels in a raceway. Photo: Beth Glidewell/USFWS.
Rainbow Trout eggs arrived at the hatchery on January 19th. Our friends at Ennis National Fish Hatchery, a Rainbow Trout brood facility for the Service, shipped us over 100,000 eggs overnight. After confirming the count and a quick disinfection, the eggs were placed in flow-through egg jars to finish their development. On January 26th, we noticed a few fry that had hatched in the jars, meaning it was about go-time! The eggs were placed on screens in raceways and hatching began almost immediately. By January 28th, most of the eggs had hatched. The new fry will feed off their yolk sac for the next few weeks. Next, we will watch for the telltale sign of hungry fry swimming up in the water column looking for food, our cue to start feeding. The trout will live at Genoa until next Spring, when they will hopefully be approaching 12 inches and ready to put a bend in some lucky angler’s rod. These trout will be stocked at Fort McCoy, several tribal lakes, and several fishing ponds including ours used for fishing events. Now the work begins to fatten these guys up! By: Nick Bloomfield
Rainbow Trout eggs in jars
A raceway with wire mesh screens holding eggs and fry in the water. Photo credit: Beth Glidewell/USFWS.
John Donne said “No man is an island, entire of itself’ and neither is a freshwater mussel culture or conservation program. Freshwater mussels are some of the most-endangered organisms in North America. 92 species are federally listed and about 2/3rds of the 297 species have state, federal, or provincial protections. With the connectivity of aquatic habitats and the downstream effects of change in aquatic systems, leverage of partnerships is required for conservation.
Photograph of a large snow and ice covered pond in panorama from the sunrise to the moon setting. A gradient of blue from darkest in the west (right) to pale pink in the east (left). Some brown grasses are visible in the foreground the image is framed by winter trees (hickory on the left and maple on the right). Photo credit: Megan Bradley/USFWS.
As freshwater mussel research has moved past the stage of collecting basic biological information for some species, expertise well-beyond propagation and culture are required. Whether that’s population analysis for our monitoring efforts of Higgins Eye reintroductions or restoration, or toxicological responses to mercury (Hg), Chloride, or PFA these areas require expertise or person hours beyond what is available at a hatchery but are joint projects that are in process or that will be completed over the next two years. Freshwater mussel conservation depends on the leveraging of time, expertise, data and money to meet the broadest recovery needs of these unique organisms, and the hatchery is at a nexus of these issues with experienced biologists, juvenile and subadult mussels and access to the extraordinary Upper Mississippi River.
By: Megan Bradley
Fish biologist Henry Quinlan from the Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office holds a 24 inch Coaster Brook Trout captured during the 2018 gamete collection in Tobin Harbor on Isle Royale National Park. Photo: USFWS.In the Midwest region, Iron River National Fish Hatchery maintains a captive line of Isle Royale strain Coaster Brook Trout for stocking in Lake Superior waters in support of the Brook Trout rehabilitation plan. To maintain genetic diversity within the broodstock, new brood lines are periodically developed. Every three to five years biologists from the USFWS Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, and Iron River and Genoa National Fish Hatcheries travel to Isle Royale National Park to collect gametes from the self-sustaining Coaster Brook Trout population in Tobin Harbor.
Fish biologist Henry Quinlan from the Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office holds a 24 inch Coaster Brook Trout captured during the 2018 gamete collection in Tobin Harbor on Isle Royale National Park. Photo: USFWS.
The fertilized eggs are then transported from Isle Royale National Park to an isolation rearing facility at USFWS Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Genoa, Wisconsin. There they are incubated, and the newly hatched fish raised for 18 months during which time they undergo several fish health inspections by staff at the USFWS La Crosse Fish Health Laboratory in Onalaska, Wisconsin. If the brood class passes three fish health inspections and are confirmed healthy, they are transported to USFWS Iron River National Fish Hatchery in Iron River, Wisconsin where they are incorporated into the Coaster Brook Trout brood program to produce offspring for restoration stocking by USFWS and partner fishery agencies in Lake Superior. Recently eggs from brood stock from the 2017 and 2018 year classes were transferred from Iron River National Fish Hatchery back home to Genoa National Fish Hatchery to support Brook Trout rehabilitation in Lake Superior.
By: Orey Eckes, Henry Quinlan, Evan Boone, Brandon Keesler
Hatchery biologists Brandon Keesler and Orey Eckes from Iron River National Fish Hatchery and Genoa National Fish Hatchery collect eggs from a female Brook Trout in Tobin Harbor during the 2018 gamete collection. Photo credit: USFWS. Eggs
Collaboration, teamwork, dedication, and setting goals are just some examples of what Genoa National Fish Hatchery has been doing as a part of the progress in Lake Sturgeon recovery. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that the Lake Sturgeon population in the Upper St. Lawrence River has met their goal for adult spawning and juvenile recruitment. Lake Sturgeon have been on New York’s threatened species list since 1983 and with the support from DEC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s New York Field Office, U.S. Geological Survey, Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, New York Power Authority and Cornell University that could change. A stocking program began in 1993 with four sites and has expanded to stocking ten sites in 2021 with a total of more than 275,000 Lake Sturgeon into New York waters. With these efforts we are now reaching population targets in four of the seven management units. The end goal is to reach six targets in the seven management units. This will lead towards removal of Lake Sturgeon from the threatened species list in New York. Thanks to all our partners, Friends group and volunteers who help us tag thousandths of Lake Sturgeon annually, your hard work, support and for modeling exemplary teamwork in reaching a common goal towards species recovery for future generations.
By: Doug Aloisi and Erica Rasmussen
A pod of adult Lake Sturgeon gathering to spawn. Photos by USFWS.
Sometimes, no matter how faithful the steed is, it is time to put it out to pasture. I am starting to find those words ever more meaningful and a tad ironic while in the twilight of my own career. But in this case, there is solace in the fact that the pasture holds rest and hopefully the farmers have been minding the thistles. Applying this theory to some of our most valued equipment, the new year finds us with a new long range fish hauling unit. This new steed has a lot of extras that should not only keep the fish healthier and in better shape, but also be safer and more efficient transport for the fish haulers. The new trailer unit features heavy duty rims and grip strut walkways to increase traction for loading the tanks. Its tank also has a lower profile on the trailer bed, which should allow for lower fuel consumption and less tire wear. The trailer has a new (to Genoa) Ram Air Ventilation system that should alleviate carbon dioxide buildup in some of the long distance hauls that we have currently been performing. It also will have better real time monitoring systems when completed which will allow in route water quality monitoring and correction to reduce physiological stress on the cargo. This new addition to the stable should serve its purpose well as the station’s next generation long hauling distribution unit. By: Doug Aloisi
A dual axle trailer with 1200 gallon tank with 3 separate compartments. Photo: Doug Aloisi/USFWS.
USFWS Pathways and University of Wisconsin La Crosse graduate student, Jadon Motquin will continue his graduate research in 2022 entitled: Evaluation of Genetic Selectivity, Growth and Survival of Lake Sturgeon Fed Commercial and Traditional Diets. This research was made possible with a competitive USFWS research grant and involves collaboration of USFWS researchers from legacy regions 3,4,5 and 6.
Project Goals: 1) To improve aquaculture management practices by optimizing genetic contribution of stocked progeny. 2) Determine if family groups of lake sturgeon habituate to commercially prepared diets at the same rates. 3) Evaluate growth and survival of lake sturgeon fed commercial feed compared to traditional live diets.
(Left) Jadon Motquin USFWS pathways employee collects milt in a syringe for fertilizing lake sturgeon eggs. (Right) Recently fertilized eggs rinsed will hatchery well water and packaged for delivery to GNFH. Photo: USFWS.
This study aims to identify any possible consequences of hatchery feeding practices and identify any possible genetic selectivity that diet may play in cultured lake sturgeon, which could hinder success of lake sturgeon restoration programs. Possible added benefits for the study may potentially identify if commercial diets are an acceptable alternative for lake sturgeon that may improve fish health and reduce fish feed cost at NFHs. The results of this study will improve management practices for lake sturgeon restoration and recovery, potentially accelerating the delisting of this species by continued stocking of lake sturgeon that will have a greater fitness for survival after stocking and be the most genetically fit progeny to restore populations through reproduction and recruitment.
Results from this project will be incorporated into a final manuscript that will be submitted to North American Journal of Aquaculture for publication and made accessible to the public. Reports of results will be shared with stakeholders and information presented at national conferences and regional aquaculture meetings. All data will be incorporated into GNFH’s standard operating procedures for best management practices for lake sturgeon restoration.
By: Orey Eckes
PVC cages with mesh end caps housing Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly larvae. These cages are arranged in flow-through culture tanks in the Dragonfly Trailer at GNFH. Photo: Beth Glidewell/USFWS.
Larvae in culture cups floating in tanks, ready to be packed up for transport.
After spending the growing season in culture tanks in the dragonfly trailer, Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly larvae were checked, photographed for measurement, and packed up for transport during the first week of November. 267 larvae were first placed into pvc tube, mesh screen capped cages in early June. Culture tanks in the trailer allow a fresh supply of pond water and ample zooplankton prey for the larvae, while also creating a semi-controlled culture space where dissolved oxygen, water flow rate and temperature can be monitored and controlled all summer. A mid-season check showed an 81% survival rate for the first stage (cages with 400-500 micron mesh) and an 89% survivorship for second stage cages (the larvae had grown enough that 1mm mesh was sufficient)
The 193 surviving larvae were placed in 100 ml specimen cups for transport. Colleagues from the University of South Dakota (USD) and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, IL—partner institutions for the Hine’s Emerald project—came to GNFH and securely packed up the specimen cups for transport back to their institutions for over-winter storage. Water temperatures had dropped to near 40 °F, so larvae had slowed down metabolically and had sufficient oxygen in these cups for transport and will be checked weekly or bi-weekly all winter. Hine’s Emerald larvae typically require several growing seasons to reach a sufficient size that they’ll emerge as adults. These larvae will be cultured for another growing season and their size will be monitored so they can be placed in culture cages that allow both aquatic larval and aerial/perching adult stages well before emergence occurs (the non-aquatic adults very much do not want to be in a mesh cage under water!).
As we said goodbye to one cohort of dragonflies, the next round was arriving. Researchers at USD brought next year’s round of eggs to distribute between GFNH and the Forest Preserve District (with eggs also over-wintering in the USD labs, we’ve got our eggs in 3 baskets…). These eggs will be kept at cold and stable temperatures (3-4°C) until early April, when we’ll begin to warm them and start next year’s hatch.
By: Beth Glidewell