New Concerns After Round goby Found in Mississippi River

edited image of round goby specimen on ruler

Round goby on measuring board after capture by bottom trawl in the Illinois River. Credit: USFWS

By Jenna Merry, La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

Small, aggressive, maybe even a little bit cute, round goby are not a new face in the world of invasive fish, but recent captures have sparked concerns about a potential new wave of invasion. While not as apparently detrimental to riverine ecosystems as other invasive fish, like silver carp, round goby are feisty fiends that may outcompete native fish for food and spawning habitats. Their populations have the potential to grow rapidly where they establish which has had deleterious effects on native fauna in some areas, especially on those fauna that occupy a similar niche.

Native to Eurasia, round goby have been found in the United States for nearly three decades. First observed in the St. Claire River in 1990, they quickly expanded to more distant reaches of the Great Lakes region, showing up in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) by 1992. From this time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has lead an annual effort to monitor this particular invasion front as they have moved from the CAWS downstream along the Illinois River towards the Mississippi River and the country’s interior. Recently, in 2018, a round goby was documented for the first time in the main stem of the Mississippi River near its confluence with the Illinois River, a short boat ride upstream of St. Louis, MO. Round goby were found there again in 2019.

With their, perhaps inevitable, advancement into the Mississippi River comes an onslaught of questions and concerns for river managers. Could a population of round goby take hold in this big river? Will the diversity and habitat complexity, or even the system of locks and dams, help stifle further advancement? What about the hundreds of tributaries with connections to headwater streams? Although not without obstacles, the Mississippi River provides an avenue of new real-estate for this accomplished invader to explore. What are we going to do about it?

To learn more about round goby and their advancement in the United States, visit fact sheet

Be on the Look Out for Mussel Die Offs this Fall


By Gretchen Newberry, Midwest Fisheries Center

Biologists in the lab collect samples from dead and dying mussels to be tested for viruses. Credit: Gretchen Newberry, USFWS

Eric Leis and Sara Erickson from the Midwest Fisheries Center, along with Diane Waller of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), are investigating a mussel die-off in Michigan. Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources collected a sample of dead and dying mussels. Die-offs tend to happen in the fall. Please contact ( if you find mussels that are gaping (like the picture below), floating at the surface, or laying on their side. The biologists are collecting hemolymph (the mussel’s circulatory fluid), and samples from the mantle (lining the shell) and the foot (the structure that pushes out from the shell used for digging and locomotion). The samples will be tested for viruses. The Mussel Mortality Network, a cooperative effort between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, and many other partners, has identified 20 new viruses, and the number climbs with each new die-off event.

Close up of a bivalve mollusk gaping. Credit: Gretchen Newberry, USFWS

Pond Research Yields Bountiful Harvest

By Doug Aloisi, Genoa NFH

As fall is upon us, the growing season for fish and mussels is quickly coming to a close. This is when ponds at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) are drained and fish and mussels are either placed in their winter homes for continued grow out at the hatchery, or released into their wild habitats.

This season the staff at Genoa NFH were trying to determine the best water quality and fertilization schemes to rear both fish and freshwater mussels in two hatchery ponds. 24 hour monitoring equipment was acquired and two seasonal employees were tasked with taking daily and weekly water quality measurements. Our mussel biologists, Megan and Beth took measurements of food particles throughout the growing season.

In early June largemouth bass with Fat Mucket mussel larvae attached to their gills were placed in propagation cages in two similar sized ponds. Ponds were fertilized weekly dependent on healthy water quality parameters. This week the ponds were harvested and cages were carefully checked for mussels. At just over three months old the mussels could be hard to find but with the help of the Prairie du Chien Advanced Placement High School Biology class, partners from the Iowa DNR, and some of our trusted volunteers the harvest was bountiful. Over 35,400 juvenile Fat Muckets were removed from the cages and we began their distribution for further grow out this winter.

This is exciting news for us as rearing mussels co-located in fish ponds would save us many hours of transportation. It would also save us the uncertainty of uncontrollable variables such as high water and cage siltation in the natural environment. We still have yet to try these methods on other species that may have more challenging culture and water quality requirements. However we are optimistic that the results are repeatable with careful pond monitoring and course corrections throughout the growing season.

11th Annual Youth Outdoor Fest: More than 1400 Attend


By Gretchen Newberry, Midwest Fisheries Center

On July 13 at Veterans Freedom Park in La Crosse, Wisconsin, more than 1,400 adults and kids attended the 11th Annual Youth Outdoor Fest. This free event featured 45 outdoor activities including a reptile show, a zipline, archery, arts and crafts, and geocaching. The festival is a collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Fisheries Center, La Crosse Parks and Recreation, and the Friends of the Upper Mississippi.

Each year in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, Genoa National Fish Hatchery, Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as well as many businesses and nonprofits come together and offer outdoor activities to families. This year, attendees enjoyed archery, storytelling, pontoon rides, canoeing, kayaking, furs and skulls identification, forestry, fish identification, fish and mussel touch tank, dog training, BB gun safety, bird feeders, invasive plant identification, knot tying, water safety and Leave No Trace education.

We invited new booths this year including Hillview Urban Agriculture Center’s ‘composting with worms’ activity and Kane Street Garden to emphasize sustainable wild foods. Badgerland Girl Scouts, Norsekedalen Nature and Heritage Center, REI’s ‘camping gear demo’, David Stokes’ ‘reptile show’ and Viterbo University’s insects were also new additions to the festival this year. Thank you to all of our volunteers, booths and partners, for making this event so successful for 11 years and counting.

If you have an outdoor activity you would like to feature in a future festival, typically held the second Saturday in July, contact the Midwest Fisheries Center Visitor Services Specialist Gretchen Newberry at

Genoa NFH Incorporates Archery into Outdoor Classroom

Students from the local YMCA receive personal instruction in archery techniques at the Genoa NFH Outdoor Classroom. Credit: USFWS

By Orey Eckes, Genoa NFH

Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) welcomed students from the local YMCA for a tour of the hatchery and a day of archery. Hatchery staff members have partnered with the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) to offer students a chance to experience archery as part of the hatchery outdoor classroom. Archery is a great tool to get children outdoors. Recently biologist (Jeena Credico, Brandon Keesler and Orey Eckes) were certified as a basic archery instructor trainers. This training will allow other people at Genoa NFH, friends group members and anyone interested in becoming an archery instructor to become certified to hold archery events. We are proud to announce four newly certified archery instructors to the NASP team!

Volunteer Sunday
Every Sunday, we feature photos and other great work by a volunteer. If you would like to submit a photo or other materials, please contact Midwest Fisheries Center volunteer coordinator Gretchen Newberry at Below are photos by Tom Siefkes, MFC volunteer and recent UW-Lacrosse grad we have recently featured.

Here is a bluegill volunteer Tom Siefkes caught in early May using a 1.5-inch lure on the Black River near La Crosse. Photo: A round sunfish with dark gill covers and a rusty belly held in a hand on a beach, with a lure dangling beside it.

This is an 11-inch yellow perch caught using a jig and a minnow on the Black River by volunteer Tom. Photo: A yellow and black-striped fish held in a hand near water, courtesy of Tome Siefkes.

Earlier this year, Al, Friends of the Upper Mississippi member and Gretchen were at Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge with the Winona Oaks student group doing an activity with aquatic invertebrates we found there, including dragonfly, mayfly, and caddisfly larvae, and leeches, flatworms, blood worms, and small aquatic snails. Send us a message if you would like us to do a similar program for your group. Photo: Students peer into trays of invertebrates, Gretchen Newberry, USFWS.

This might be one of our monarch caterpillars all grown up! Typically, it goes from egg to adult in just 30 days. Good luck on your journey! Thank you to the Friends of the Upper Mississippi for the pollinator garden here at the Midwest Fisheries Center. If anyone would like a tour of the Midwest Fisheries Center, including the pollinator garden, please contact Gretchen Newberry at , 608-783-8455.

Sturgeon Pen Pals

Al and Gretchen talk about sturgeon with West Salem Elementary sutdents for Environmental Day. Photo courtesy of Lisa Jones/West Salem Elementary.


It started with a question: How many students along the Mississippi River would be able to recognize a lake sturgeon? In the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin, kids are often exposed to the outdoors. It’s a rolling landscape of streams, wetlands, bluffs, prairies and caves, and many students fish with their parents and grandparents, sometimes from their own backyard. But, what about the fish that don’t end up on the end of their hook? How much do they know about fish that are less common?
The Midwest Fisheries Center has a long history with lake sturgeon conservation. Since the 1990s, the center’s biologists have worked with tribes on restoring and monitoring lake sturgeon populations. Helping young people become more knowledgeable about lake sturgeon conservation keeps the program relevant, and in turn, it helps the biologists feel that the public values their work.
Taking the lake sturgeon into the classroom and telling their story to the students could only help. At West Salem Elementary School’s Environmental Day this last spring, I asked the students if they thought lake sturgeon lived in Wisconsin. Among six classrooms of 20 children, only half of the students were certain lake sturgeon could be found in the state, and only a couple students could identify the sturgeon in our tank.
I led the students through a series of questions to introduce them to this charismatic fish: How many of you have ever wanted to see an animal that has lived alongside a dinosaur? How big do you think a lake sturgeon can grow? How long can they live? Rather than presenting the facts, asking questions engages students and gives them ownership of their own educational process. We talked about the 19th Century caviar craze that led to near extirpation for the lake sturgeon in Wisconsin, and how we, the Wisconsin people, brought their fish back from the brink. We talked about the cultural importance of lake sturgeon for First Nations people and how spawning sturgeon was a gift at the end of a hard Wisconsin winter long before there were grocery stores to help us all survive. They witnessed the Menominee Tribe’s fish dance via a video provided by the Wisconsin First Nations. We talked about the bumpy scutes that help young vulnerable sturgeon survive and their cartilaginous skeletons, and the importance of fish passage. All of these details helped the students flesh out the story of lake sturgeon and their own place in its history.
Al Brinkman, Midwest Fisheries Center and Genoa National Fish Hatchery volunteer, and member of the Friends of the Upper Mississippi, talked to the students about the thousands of sturgeon he microchipped at Genoa last summer before they and thousands more were shipped to other states to be released. It was important they understood that sturgeon persist in this state and others due to civic engagement from the Wisconsin people.
I ended the session by asking the students to help me out. I wanted to wish the sturgeon a good journey as they migrate our waterways and as they travel to other states to be released by our hatcheries. I asked the students to write postcards to the sturgeon as they contemplated what these young sturgeon need to survive.

Gallery of sturgeon pen pal postcards at the Midwest Fisheries Center. Photo by Gretchen Newberry/USFWS.

Many of the postcards reflect a newfound value of these ancient fish, their role as a cultural resource and what these unique fish need to survive. Moreover, it provided a conduit of communication between the public and our biologists on this conservation work, and we have enjoyed their enthusiastic and colorful art.
Thanks to Genoa National Fish Hatchery for providing the lake sturgeon!

Raena Parsons receives regional Sense of Wonder award


Raena Parsons teaches fish identification to elementary school kids at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center. Photo by Orey Eckes/USFWS.

Raena Parsons, an environmental education specialist stationed at Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin, is the 2019 recipient of the regional Sense of Wonder award. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service use the Sense of Wonder award to honor employees who have designed, implemented or shown visionary leadership in an interpretive or environmental education program that fosters a sense of wonder and enhances public stewardship of the country’s fish and wildlife heritage. Nominees are evaluated on their ability to use the principles of interpretation and environmental education to create original and innovative methods of connecting the public with our resources and programs.

Raena was selected as this year’s regional recipient due to her extraordinary work as the fish hatchery’s first and only full time interpretative staff person. In addition to visiting schools, Raena welcomes and educates visitors at the Great River Road Interpretive Center, a 5,000 square foot facility that opened in 2018. The new visitor center includes educational exhibits focused on the natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River, the history of the region, the hatchery’s species recovery work and soon, through Raena’s efforts, an exhibit highlighting the center’s rooftop pollinator garden. Raena’s innovative approach connects static interpretive materials with physical interactive interpretation. As a result, visitors are able to get an up close look at how beehives function and how pollinators help fisheries resources and the larger ecosystem. This project is being done in addition to Raena’s ongoing work to engage residents and visitors to the area through interpretive programming for school groups, coordination of hatchery events and providing a presence at community events.

The Sense of Wonder award is coordinated by the National Wildlife Refuge System. Raena’s win as a Fish and Aquatic Conservation employee illustrates that like national wildlife refuges, national fish hatcheries play an important role in connecting the American public to the country’s resources. Raena’s regional selection qualifies her to compete for the national Sense of Wonder award, which will be announced in November at the National Association of Interpretation conference in Denver, Colorado.

Congratulations to Raena on being selected for this prestigious award! Learn more about Genoa National Fish Hatchery and the Great River Road Interpretive Center to plan your visit today.