Fish Lines January 2020

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Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program - USFWS Interior Region 3 | Great Lakes

January 10, 2020

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Fish Lines is a monthly publication that highlights the recent news and work conducted by USFWS Interior Region 3 Fisheries personnel and their partners and friends. For questions or for more information contact the editor, email

Did You Know?

collecting whitefish on green bay

Dale Hanson, Drew Ransom, and Sharon Rayford pictured with spawning-ready lake whitefish captured near Snake Island. Credit: USFWS

map of lake whitefish sampling locations

Resurgence of Green Bay's World-Class Whitefish Fishery :

Where did the fish come from?

By Dale Hanson, Green Bay FWCO

The Green Bay ice-fishing season is here! Over the last 15 years, Wisconsin anglers on Green Bay enjoy arguably the best lake whitefish fishing in the world. What brought about the recent resurgence of whitefish in Green Bay? In short, natural reproduction has been consistently high, but biologists have yet to determine the specific spawning locations responsible for the strong year-classes supporting this resurgent population. Genetic and otolith microchemistry tools are available to address this question, but such methods must have specimens from all contributing spawning populations. Historically, lake whitefish are known to spawn in November at northern Green Bay’s Big Bay de Noc and northern Moonlight Bay on the lake side of the Door Peninsula; more recently, spawning has been documented in several rivers on the western shore of Green Bay. Spring-time larval lake whitefish netting confirms that newly hatched larvae are present near these areas, but also suggests an undocumented spawning population may be using shoals within Green Bay along the Door Peninsula.

In late-October, Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) biologists ran hydroacoustic transects along the Door Peninsula in search of spawning whitefish. Returning echoes from the sonar, referred to as back-scatter, were analyzed to retain only the echoes arising from large bodied fish. Biologists then set gillnets to verify these ‘large acoustic targets’ were whitefish, and to gauge the progression of spawning. Based on netting results, lake whitefish appear to be spawning in waters near Snake Island. In mid-November, 77 lake whitefish were captured near Snake Island, including many ripe males, spent females, and two spawn-ready females. Upcoming egg-suction surveys will try to recover eggs from nearby substrates to provide genetic samples from this suspected “new” spawning population.      

juvenile sturgeon

The first lake sturgeon to be captured in western Lake Erie from the Maumee River stocking events. This sturgeon was caught by a commercial fisherman and was confirmed to be a Maumee River stocked fish via PIT tag. Photo courtesy of Jeff Herr of Herr Fishery.

Maumee River stocked Lake sturgeon captured in Lake Erie

By Jennifer L. Johnson, Alpena FWCO - Detroit River Substation

The Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) - Detroit River Substation received some of their most exciting news of the year just before Thanksgiving.   A Maumee River stocked lake sturgeon was captured in Lake Erie for the first time!

Over the past two years U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has worked with several partners as part of the Maumee River Lake Sturgeon Restoration Program to stock nearly 6,000 fingerling lake sturgeon into the Maumee River. This is a twenty plus year program to reestablish a self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon in the Maumee River, a tributary to Lake Erie in Ohio. Since lake sturgeon are slow to mature, the success of this project may not be known for several years. However, the news of this captured sturgeon indicates that the program is moving in the right direction.      

One of the metrics to determine the success is to work with commercial fisherman who incidentally catch sturgeon as by-catch in their nets. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and USFWS have been working with commercial fisherman by providing them with PIT tag scanners and a small processing box. The commercial fisherman are asked to scan each fish for a PIT tag and obtain a few key pieces of information from each sturgeon before they are released.

This young sturgeon was caught by a commercial fisherman in Ohio waters of western Lake Erie. A scan for a PIT tag confirmed it was a Maumee River released fish. When the fish was released in October of 2018, it was 7.4 inches long. Using image analysis software, the fish is now estimated to be 18.5 inches. Eleven inches of growth in 13 months indicates that this sturgeon is doing really well. Hopefully, this is the first of many positive results for the Maumee River lake sturgeon restoration program.

The Maumee River Lake Sturgeon Restoration Program is a partnership between the Toledo Zoo, Ohio Department of Natural Resources – Division of Wildlife, U.S. Geological Survey, USFWS, Purdy Fisheries Ltd., University of Toledo, University of Windsor, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

removing fish on gillnet table

USFWS crew processes fish collected during a multi agency gill net survey for lake trout. Credit: USFWS

New Insights on Lake trout Movements in Lake Michigan

By Matt Kornis, Green Bay FWCO

Rehabilitation of lake trout in Lake Michigan has been a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  since the 1960s. The Great Lakes Fish Tagging and Recovery Lab (GLFTRL) has been tagging all lake trout stocked by the Service with coded-wire tags since 2010. The GLFTRL and native species programs at the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO), with input from state and tribal agencies, recently updated information on how lake trout move within Lake Michigan, addressing a primary objective of the tagging program. Coded-wire tagged lake trout recovered by anglers and by a cooperative multi-agency gill net assessment survey were evaluated to determine the proportion of lake trout that move from each stocking area to different areas of the lake. The study found that lake trout typically stay within 60 miles of where they were stocked, and that fish stocked near one shoreline rarely cross the lake to the opposite shore. In addition, about 50% of lake trout stocked at offshore reefs, such as Julian’s Reef in Illinois and the reef complexes at the Southern and Northern Refuges, eventually move nearshore and contribute the majority of fish harvested by nearshore recreational fisheries. These data are currently being used by multiple groups to improve population stock assessment models within the lake used to evaluate recovery and manage harvest.

volunteers at interpretive center

Volunteers, Rosie and Dave, take time out of their day for a picture in the lobby of the Great River Road Interpretive Center. Credit: USFWS.

Family Fun Day a Success Thanks to Volunteers!

By Raena Parsons, Genoa National Fish Hatchery

More than 70 people ventured to the Great River Road Interpretive Center on Saturday, November 23 for our first family fun day. Families explored the interpretive center, completed a nature scavenger hunt, learned about local animals, listened to nature story time, and made festive crafts to take home. Dedicated volunteers, who helped families complete activities and answer questions, staffed all stations and provided parking guidance. A huge thank you goes out to all the volunteers who made this event possible!

A summer family fun day is being planned for June 2020 with a focus on pollinators. If you are interested in helping with the next family day, contact Raena Parsons at 608-689-2605 or

students unpack rainbow trout for aquarium tank

Onaway High School students introduce rainbow trout to a new home after acclimating them to the water temperature of their classroom aquarium. Credit: Scott Steensma

Jordan River NFH Supports Trout in the Classroom

By Tim Smigielski, Regional Office – Fish and Aquatic Conservation

Annually Jordan River National Fish Hatchery (NFH) provides trout to the Onaway High School’s–Service Learning Program administered by a dedicated teacher, Scott Steensma. Many of Scott's students go on to use and share the valuable experiences they acquire while working in service to others. This school year students in the program are working on several projects. These projects range from research and investigation to innovation to invention, covering many topics. Every year there are students interested in raising live trout. For several school years the students raised brook trout---something new for this year... rainbow trout. Onaway student, freshman Jill Chaskey took the reins and provided leadership for the trout in the classroom project. Jill contacted the hatchery, made the arrangements for a fingerling transfer and enjoyed a tour of the new Cisco program operations at Jordan River NFH. We will be checking in on Mr. Steensma’a program and projects this winter. Stay tuned.

Field Station Focus: Ashland FWCO

after planting pollinator plants

A portion of the restored area along the Brownstone Trail in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Credit: Landmark Conservancy

Brownstone Trail Project and Partnership

By Ted Koehler, Ashland FWCO

The Landmark Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) worked together through the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to restore pollinator habitat along the Brownstone Trail in the small city of Bayfield, Wisconsin. The Brownstone Trail begins in Bayfield and terminates approximately 2.25 miles south at the Port Superior Marina. Located along the Lake Superior shoreline, the Brownstone Trail offers shoreline scenic values as it meanders through the coastal forest that is important for migratory birds and other wildlife, the water quality of Lake Superior, and native plant populations. This area is also an important wildlife corridor between Highway 13 and Lake Superior. The trail is popular with residents and tourists alike who enjoy walking/hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and wildlife viewing along the trail. Once owned by a railroad company, lands adjacent to the trail are now owned by the City of Bayfield and private landowners, many of whom own small parcels and are absentee landowners. The Landmark Conservancy holds trail easements with these landowners which allows for public use and enjoyment of the entire length of the trail. Along the trail, there are many areas with steep slopes of sensitive soils. Runoff from streets can also be observed in the ravines and other steep slopes. Despite that a corridor is zoned “conservancy” by the City of Bayfield to protect the steep slopes; vegetation is often removed sometimes leading to landslides. Maintaining healthy forest cover and proper land management is important to reduce erosion and protect the water quality of Lake Superior.

The slope had slumped in the project area due to a lack of vegetation which provides soil stabilization. Fill was then brought in and unfortunately, Japanese knotweed was in the fill. Through the years, it grew to dominate the site. The restoration partnership began addressing the Japanese knotweed in cooperation with the landowners and the local weed cooperative group by treating the Japanese knotweed as well as other invasive plants. The site was then prepped for its future planting. Plants were purchased from local nurseries and planted by Landmark Conservancy staff and volunteers following a weed removal activity. Species included Little bluestem, Lance-leaf coreopsis, Butterfly weed, Rough blazing star, Pearly everlasting, Yellow coneflower, native Bee balm, Stiff goldenrod, Ox-eye sunflower, Common milkweed, Tall milkweed, and Black eye Susan. Bottlebrush grass and Canada wild rye were placed in the very steep locations to establish quickly and root deeply, and Pasture rose and Sensitive fern were also used in key locations. In all, over 2,500 plants were planted. This density was chosen as it is appropriate for a native planting, especially in these conditions.

The planting was also a wonderful opportunity to educate the neighboring landowners and raise the awareness of monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat planting and the use of native plants and their natural resource values. Other community members as well as visiting tourists in the area will also be educated by the project. Each fall approximately 60,000 visitors descend on the small town of Bayfield and it’s 500 residents for Applefest, which is the region’s premier annual tourist event. The restoration partnership will continue to monitor this planting project and address challenges such as invasive plants as needed.

Always more to our story...

cross country skiers on trail at NFH

Cross country skiers enjoy the beauty of our Service lands on the Simpson Trail at Iron River NFH. Credit: USFWS

Iron River National Fish Hatchery is a Winter Wonderland

By Jeremy Trimpey, Iron River NFH

The Simpson Trail System at the Iron River National Fish Hatchery (NFH) is an excellent avenue to enjoy the outdoors. This system is a collection of trails totaling just over three miles that meander throughout the 1,200 acre property consisting of forested swamp hardwoods and conifers. The trails are maintained year round, and Hatchery staff groom the trail system during the winter for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. The winter access to the trail system provides a unique perspective into the winter landscape of the Northland.

These activities are not only a great way to escape cabin fever, but can also be a great way to view breath taking winter scenery; figuratively and literally, as temperatures can reach -20ᵒ Fahrenheit in the winter time at the Iron River NFH. Wildlife is abundant on Hatchery grounds so finding animal tracks along the trail system is common place. Tracks from white-tailed deer, bobcats, coyotes, squirrels, snowshoe hares, turkeys, and grouse are some of the more common tracks observed. Snowshoes are available at the Iron River NFH visitor center to borrow for use on the trail system, which is located at the trail head.

For an even more unique winter experience, every February the Hatchery hosts a candle light snowshoe trek. This event provides the opportunity to snowshoe a groomed trail through the forest at night. The trekkers can then warm up next to a bon fire, eat s’mores, drink hot cocoa, and reminisce with fellow participants. This year’s event is scheduled to take place on Saturday, February 22 starting at 6:00 pm.  

Fish Tales

Green Bay FWCO Gets Ready for 2020 Field Season 

By Cari-Ann Hayer, Green Bay FWCO

As the New Year rapidly arrived, the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) had already been planning for the 2020 field season. The Lake Michigan Aquatic Invasive Species Early Detection and Monitoring Program at the Green Bay FWCO is poised with some new research on current nonnative species in Lake Michigan. We will be continuing to determine the status of the Red Swamp Crayfish populations in lower Lake Michigan. Additionally, we will be sampling the distribution and abundance of invasive amphipods (scud) in the Upper Illinois River and Chicago Area Waterways. The scud is poorly understood and yet they have not been detected in Lake Michigan to date; however, the connection from the Illinois River and their rapid migration up the Illinois River suggests a potential invasion into Lake Michigan. According to the United States Geological Survey there is little information on impacts to the ecosystem although they could compete with native mussels for food and habitat. This is a collaborative project with Loyola University in Chicago, the Illinois River Biological Station (Illinois Natural History Survey) and Western Illinois University. These research projects are just two of potentially more projects we have discussed for 2020. These projects will inform scientists on potential invasion patterns, biological and ecological impacts, and sampling strategies for these rare species.


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