Lake Sturgeon Distribution in the Time of COVID-19

Our world has changed dramatically in the past few months. Even in the world of fish production. In a typical year, the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (GNFH) would go off station to collect eggs from 6 river strains of wild lake sturgeon to raise to fingerling size to reduce predation. Then they would be stocked in a number of different locations to restore lake sturgeon within its historic range. This year in the middle of a global pandemic all off-station travel was ceased in order to protect staff and others from the novel virus. Only one lake sturgeon egg take was actually accomplished in New York out of the 6 active programs that the station is involved in. This was due to its occurrence happening in early June, when restrictions were easing in upstate New York. Our partners in Conservation, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, (NYDEC) with the assistance of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s New York Field Office (NYFO) collected and shipped the eggs overnight via FEDEX to the station in order for us to continue this restoration effort in Calendar Year 2020. The eggs were in great shape and hatched out well. So well that surplus fish were available for shipment back the state of New York. In a normal year, we would load up the smaller surplus fish in August and drive them out to our partners in New York as a precursor to the final distribution of an additional stocking of 7 inch fish in mid-October.
This year with travel still unavailable a new plan had to be formulated. As with the eggs, the only mode of transport available to us was via FedEx. Not having shipped lake sturgeon with this method over this long distance by air was a little disconcerting at best. Using the limited information available in “grey literature” from other species of fish we set out to document the actual effectiveness of this method of transportation on lake sturgeon small fingerlings of less than 2.5 inches. To date, the station has shipped 10,000 small fingerlings using this method back to New York for stocking by New York DEC and FWS’s NYFO personnel by priority overnight airmail with minimal loss. In a normal year, this method would not be considered given the uncertainties of air freight travel, but in this instance, desperation leads to innovation. Through 20 boxes of freight, 10,000 2 month old fish measuring 2-2.5 inches were distributed in their native habitat. In the year of 2020, we are going to try to count this one as a win.
By: Doug Aloisi












Top- Lake Sturgeon fry pre-shipping. Bottom- Boxed lake sturgeon fry – Photo Credit:Doug Aloisi/USFWS

The New Kids at the Hatchery

On July 1st, 2020, the hatchery received 12 devil crayfish from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to see how they would grow and survive using the same rearing techniques as the Hine’s emerald dragonfly. The Forest Preserve had collected the eggs in 2019 and with the excellent survival last year and over the winter, was planning for the crayfish to go to local schools as part of an outreach program. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and schools being closed, the programs were unable to start up in 2020 and the crayfish were outgrowing their homes, starting to fight one another, causing damage, missing claws, etc.

The transfer to Genoa allowed the Forest Preserve to reduce their numbers and allowed Genoa to try rearing a new species. Upon arrival, the crayfish were individually swabbed, and those samples sent to the La Crosse Fish Health Center for disease testing. They are being housed in the dragonfly trailer in cages to allow pond water to flow through to provide zooplankton for food and then the effluent water is discharged off station to prevent any possible outside contamination while the disease testing is pending. To date, they have survived the first couple molts, indicating they are eating well and the water quality is good for the crayfish [Continued on

[Continued from Page 2] These crayfish are an important part of the habitat for the Hine’s emerald dragonfly, their extensive burrows with chimneys provide a home to the larval stage of the dragonfly during times of drought and over the winter. Future work with this species will include studies of how they move, what materials they will use for burrows and to see if they will stay in locations where they are stocked, creating habitat for the dragonflies.











Top: Crayfish being swabbed for disease testing. Bottom: Crayfish in individual cages. Photo by Angela Baran Dagendesh /USFWS Photos.

By Angela Baran Dagendesh



 Partners in Fish Restoration and Partners in Mussel Restoration



Sometimes the stars align just perfectly that allows us to partner with some of our traditional partners in a relatively new emerging resource area such as mussel restoration. It especially works well when our partners are as passionate about the resource as The St. Regis Mohawk tribe of northern New York. The hatchery has an ongoing relationship with the tribe involving lake sturgeon restoration. Genoa has been actively supplying lake sturgeon fingerlings for northern New York waters since 2011. The tribe has recently become interested in freshwater mussel propagation for restoration due to recent tribal aquatic resource recovery plans that include mussel restoration using propagation as a recovery tool.

Further contacts were made when tribal biologists attended the Freshwater Mussel Propagation for Restoration course at the FWS National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown West Virginia. Genoa mussel biologists assist in the teaching and formulation of that class as well as the Conservation Biology of Freshwater Mussels course offered

there. Through these classes a relationship was formed and we agreed to assist in drafting a cooperative agreement in order to further the tribe’s freshwater mussel propagation program through technical expertise and assistance, providing host fish of various species, analyzing food content of the tribes hatchery water supplies, and by reviewing designs of the tribal hatchery in order to suggest improvements relating to freshwater mussel propagation.

In the past year, this partnership has proven effective by supplying 2 shipments of freshwater drum, a host fish for 2 species of concern referenced in the lower Grasse River Mussel Recovery plan. Also provided to the tribe was a review of their newly constructed mussel propagation lab and review of the Quality Assurance Project Plan focusing on freshwater mussel propagation This is a great start to a valuable partnership to conserve fish and aquatic resources in tribal waters. We look forward to the future and all of the potential opportunities at hand to further stewardship of aquatic resources with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Bt Doug Aloisi


Mussel restoration at Guttenberg, Iowa

Hatchery biologists have spent the last several weeks preparing juvenile mussels of several species for release into the Mississippi River near Guttenberg, Iowa. This is stocking event is part of a multi-year effort to restore the mussel population in an area of the river that suffered severe impacts from a train derailment. Black Sandshell, Yellow Sandshell, Plain Pocketbook, Washboard, and Higgins Eye mussels were propagated at Genoa NFH, and have been reared at the hatchery, in the MARS ‘mussel trailer’ and in submerged containers in the Dubuque Ice Harbor (in collaboration with the National Mississippi River Museum) for the last 2- 3 years.
With high water for much of last fall, we and our Iowa DNR partners were not able to stock juvenile mussels at the site during 2019. This summer, with good river conditions the juvenile mussels were ready for the river after spending an additional winter and spring in the mussel building at Genoa NFH (the mussel biologists were also ready for the several thousand, rapidly growing juvenile mussels to go to the river!).
Prior to release, juvenile mussels are marked or tagged so future monitoring efforts can determine if a mussel was propagated or has resulted from natural reproduction or is an animal that has moved into the target area from surrounding areas. A colored super glue dot is added to one or both valves of the shell for most species, or in the case of Federally Endangered Higgins Eye mussels, a tag with a unique number is glued to the shell. When all of the mussels were counted and tagged, they were loaded up into big transport coolers, taken to Guttenberg, transferred to biologists from the Iowa DNR, and released into the Mississippi River. Hopefully the little mussels will settle in and help establish a healthy, stable mussel bed for years to come.
By Beth Glidewell

Washboard mussels laid out for glue dot tagging.

Higgins Eye with newly affixed numbered tags.

Pocketbook juveniles laid out for glue dot tagging prior to release in the Mississippi River near Guttenberg, Iowa. USFWS photos.

2020 Version of Pond 14 Mussel Grow-Out Study in Progress

Fat Mucket juveniles produced during the 2019 pond season in Pond 14 North.

Mussel culture has grown throughout the last several years, but it is nowhere near the same place fish culture is. When it comes to fish, we have over a century of science to fall back on. When we run into a problem, there is a very good chance someone has had that same problem and tried different solutions. Freshwater mussel culture, on the other hand, does not always have that knowledge to fall back on. That means we get to be the tinkerers.
In 2019, we completed a study looking at mussel survival and growth in the twin ponds at the east edge of the property, ponds 14 north and south. We looked at water quality and food quantity in an organically fertilized pond vs an inorganically fertilized pond. While we didn’t see any difference in survival, we were able to grow substantially larger mussels in the inorganic pond, with no effect on fish production in either pond.
This year, we are trying something similar with additional mussel species. The inorganic vs organic pond is still in play, but we went without Aquashade in the inorganic pond and reserve the right to add algaecide if necessary. Aquashade dyes the water to limit sunlight penetration, slowing primary production and growth of aquatic vegetation. Algaecides can be toxic to mussels, but we want to see whether the small amounts used in typical fish production are problematic. Every little piece of information we can glean from these small-scale studies can be used to increase our ability to grow more and bigger mussels to help us achieve our mission.
By Nick Bloomfield

Preliminary Research Evaluating Feed Acceptance of Lake Sturgeon to Commercial Diets

Multisizer III particle analyzer used to sample mussel food particles in water.

Preliminary Research Evaluating Feed Acceptance of Lake Sturgeon to Commercial Diets Lake Sturgeon, a priority species of concern for fish and aquatic conservation, listed by many states as threatened, endangered and of special concern, has recently been petitioned to be federally listed under the Endangered Species Act. Due to its depleted status, many agencies throughout the United States have developed restoration plans consisting of restoring wild populations of Lake Sturgeon. The goal of intensive culture of Lake Sturgeon is to maximize genetic contribution and post-stocking survival to effectively restore populations through reproduction and recruitment. To increase juvenile recruitment and survival, the NFHS goal is to release fingerlings of an optimal size and fitness that can maximize post-stocking survival and avoid predation. To do this, managers strive to maximize growth and fitness of reared fish at the same time as controlling feed and operation costs. Traditional feeds consisting of brine shrimp, bloodworms, and krill have been widely adopted nationwide because Lake Sturgeon readily accept them, resulting in low feed conversions and survival of fish to stocking. However, these feeds are four times the cost of commercial dry diets and are relatively poor in nutritional quality, decreasing in availability, and may contain contaminants, which is an emerging concern for fisheries managers. Hence, Genoa National Fish Hatchery is conducting preliminary research to determine feed acceptance of Lake Sturgeon to commercial feeds. Results from this study will be used for future research, evaluating genetic selectivity, growth and survival of Lake Sturgeon fed commercial diets. Results from this preliminary study will be completed the end of July of 2020. By Orey Eckes
Genoa National Fish Hatchery’s mission is to recover, restore, maintain and enhance fish and aquatic resources on a basin-wide and national level by producing over 35 aquatic species of varying life stages, participating in active conservation efforts with our partners, and becoming a positive force in the community by educating future generations on the benefits of conservation stewardship.

Freshwater Drum juvenile- a valuable mussel host fish. USFWS photos.

Set your mussels free: once you choose the best site

A couple of thousand Fatmucket mussels were recently added to a small creek in downtown Dubuque, IA. Upper Bee Branch is a unique project for freshwater mussel restoration because the stream has, until recently, been covered by concrete and the streets of the city. The National Mississippi River Museum collaborated with the Dubuque County Conservation Board and Genoa National Fish Hatchery to return mussels to this urban creek. Freshwater mussels raised at the hatchery are released into the wild for several reasons; to restore the diversity of a community impacted by historic or recent pollution or physical environmental change, to increase the number or size of a population of an endangered species, or simply to restore their ecosystem services (water filtering) to a stream.
Releasing freshwater mussels is the easy part. They don’t squirm in your net, flip their tails and splash you or hide in the back corner of your stocking tank, however, they’re expert burrowers. This seems like it should make it easier to come back and check on how they’re doing, but unfortunately, this is rarely true. Finding a mussel in the creek is very much like seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack, even a haystack as small as the Upper Bee Branch, which is only a yard or so across. This means that in places where scientists want to regularly assess growth and survival, mussels can’t just be dropped into the stream. In the case of Bee Branch, silos, or concrete mussel containers have been placed out and only a handful of mussels put in a chamber where there’s steady water flow. This means that the mussels won’t be washed downstream in high flow, and they’re easy to find when sought. National Mississippi River Museum staff check on the mussels and measure for growth once a week over the summer to ensure that the creek will support the survival of this returning species.

Juvenile Fatmucket mussels ready for deployment into silos in Bee Branch, Dubuque, Iowa. Their size at the end of the growing season will be compared to their early season size (shown here, relative to a quarter). USFWS photo

By Megan Bradley

Genoa Mussel Biologist Earns Region’s 2020 Science Excellence Award

 Megan Bradley at Endangered Higgins Eye Release. Photo by USFWS.

Megan Bradley of the Genoa (WI) National Fish Hatchery recently received high honors for her achievements in furthering Aquatic Species Recovery through her work in freshwater mussel and fisheries science. She recently received Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Region 3 2020 Award for Science Excellence. FWS Region 3 administers FWS activities and mission in the 8 Midwestern States of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Megan’s contributions to the conservation of native freshwater mussels include working with partners to reintroduce a new population of Higgins Eye Pearlymussel according to the Higgins Eye Recovery Plan. Megan was instrumental in these efforts by constructing a preplacement habitat sampling program, and contributing to the writing of the Higgins Eye Reintroduction plan that paved the way for acceptance to place this new population of Endangered species in historic habitat in waters with low zebra mussel populations. This new population joined a newly transferred federally Endangered Winged Mapleleaf mussel population. Both species were propagated through efforts directed through a multi-agency mussel conservation team, and executed through the Genoa National Fish Hatchery mussel propagation program.

Megan is also considered an expert in determining economic value to mussel resources which is proving invaluable in determining damages in Natural Resource Damage Assessments. Her leadership and input in the Freshwater Mussel Conservation Society’s role in the formulation and publishing of the American Fisheries Society publication “Investigation and Monetary Values of Fish and Freshwater Mollusk Kills was invaluable. This reference is considered the standard in repairing the aftermath of fish and mussel kills and is used in many Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) settlements as a resource to determine damages.

Megan also developed methodology to determine ploidy in wild and cultured lake sturgeon using technology and equipment available on station. She is able to determine ploidy in wild populations, and pre-release sampling plans have been implemented to ensure cultured lake sturgeon will not negatively affect current restoration efforts ongoing across the country. Congratulations Megan! We are proud of you and your efforts!

Dragonfly Learning Curve Continues!

Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly larvae are reared in PVC pipe cages submerged in tanks. Photo by Angela Baran Dagendesh/USFWS.

Genoa National Fish Hatchery began working with the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly in 2015 after receiving a grant to help get the program underway. Each year brings new challenges and learning opportunities for working with this species! Last fall, the hatchery received 800 eggs to hold over the winter for spring hatch and summer grow-out. The learning curve has been quite steep for the eggs and newly hatched larvae, with hatching beginning in February this year, about 3 months early! The hatchery adapted quickly, setting up small cups with a little sand and supplementing with pond water out of the mussel building, warmed up to room temperature. Once it warmed up and pond water temperatures increased, the newly hatched larvae were placed loose in rearing tanks, to give them more space and hopefully avoid cannibalism. We are now transitioning to smaller cages to place in the tanks to further reduce cannibalism and also to protect the larvae from any other invertebrates that might come in with the pond water. Now that the temperatures have warmed up, zooplankton production in the ponds has taken off, providing an all you can eat buffet for the larvae! Once the larvae get a little larger, they will transition to the larger mesh cages and be placed out in the hatchery ponds. The larger mesh will still protect the larvae, but allow larger sized food to crawl in for the dragonfly larvae. Stay tuned this summer for updates and pictures of the growing dragonflies!

By Angela Baran Dagendesh