Fish Lines February 2020 Edition

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

February 5, 2020

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Fish Lines is a bi-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?

BAFF Technology image

If you look closely you can see a line of air bubbles on the water surface produced by the BAFF installed below the Lake Barkley Lock to deter Asian carp from entering, but there is a lot more going on under the water. Credit: Kristen Peters, USFWS

asian carp jumping at dam

BAFF Study Underway...

will Asian carp be deterred?

By Rob Simmonds, Interior Region 3 Great Lakes FAC Program

Asian carp have continued to expand their range, but models used to predict their rate of spread indicate that even barriers that stop less than 100% of the carp can make a big difference in how far and how fast they spread. One promising option, the Bio Acoustic Fish Fence (BAFF) designed by Fish Guidance Systems, has deterred 97% of bighead and silver carp in the lab. But how will it work in a real world application? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others are putting the BAFF to the test. The BAFF uses a specific combination of lights and sounds contained within bubble curtains to guide fish away from an area. In our case, we have placed one at an angle below the Lake Barkley Lock chamber (in Kentucky) in attempts to steer fish away from the entrance. Researchers implanted silver carp with transmitters to see if we can slow their current rate of passage though the lock. We expect some preliminary results this summer, and will continue the experiment, as needed, to test different BAFF operating parameters to maximize its effectiveness. Above: Research will test how effective the lights, sound, and bubbles of the BAFF are at deterring the many Asian carp seen here in the waters below Lake Barkley Lock and Dam. Credit: Kristen Peters, USFWS

netmending at Green Bay FWCO

Ted Eggebraaten (left – Green Bay FWCO) and Dick Pagel (right – Retired Wisconsin DNR) work on creating a net while students look on in the background. Credit: Anthony Rieth, USFWS

Net Mending 101

By Anthony Reith, Green Bay FWCO

As scientists we utilize a variety of tools during assessments of fish populations. Properly functioning gear is critical to ensure consistent application of long term studies. Maintenance and repair of old, broken, or worn down gear is performed during the winter months when sampling does not take place. One common and important tool used by fisheries professionals is the gillnet. Gillnets are a gear type typically used in deeper waters (greater than 6 feet). The horizontal net is stretched between two anchors with floating marker bouys attached to each end to alert boaters to the net's presence. Fish become entangled in the net and are then collected when the nets are retrieved. In the process of fishing these nets, the net mesh will often times tear and need repair or replacement.

This winter, close to twenty Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) employees met in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin for a net mending and repair workshop. Instructors included Brandon Bastar (WDNR), Dick Pagel (WDNR – Retired), and Ted Eggebraaten (Green Bay FWCO). Combined net mending experience from these three individuals exceeds seven decades and it was quite apparent as the course unfolded. The day began with a short power point presentation that covered topics on different technical terms relevant to nets, how to determine what net material to use, and how to assess a nets current status. Leaving the meeting room behind, students headed to the shop where they were quickly taught a few important concepts for net repair. Shortly after the hands-on training, students were given the opportunity to string and repair nets under the watchful eye of the instructors.

The workshop was very well presented and everyone in attendance agreed that they learned a lot from the instructors. Workshop participants learned complete net repair for the beginners and slight tricks on how to make better and quicker repairs for the more experienced net menders.

FWS employees looking at technolgical devices

Ludington Biological Station staff preparing tablets for field use. Credit: Christina Carter, USFWS

New Technology in Today's Sea Lamprey Control Program

By Timothy Sullivan, Ludington Biological Station

For the times, they are a changing! Bob Dylan wrote and sang about it in the mid 1960’s and it certainly holds true in today’s Sea Lamprey Control Program (SLCP). Staff from the Ludington Biological Station (LBS) and Marquette Biological Station (MBS) are transitioning from the old days of inventory notebooks, paper data forms, clipboards, and write-in-the-rain data sheets to the use of rugged, weather-proof/resistant field tablets for data gathering.

Thanks to support from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, rugged tablets were purchased for both Stations beginning in 2017. The SLCP is funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with the Commission. The Commission is a strong advocate for and provides financial support to the modernization of data collection activities within the Sea Lamprey Control Program.

Initial use of the tablets was focused on inventory tracking of lampricides within each field Station. The tablets are also slowly being incorporated into data collection of stream side water chemistry data, replacing the old log books and reducing the time once needed for data entry. The benefits from the use of the tablets include real time data availability, improved efficiency of data collection and storage, and reductions in recording errors. The tablets greatly improved upon record accuracy and precision. Additional uses of the tablets in the field continue to be explored and likely will be implemented in the near future.

Gone are the old days of trying to decipher handwriting and penmanship of logbooks. Real time data can now be available and used for ordering and purchasing accurate amounts of lampricides for program needs. Real time inventory tracking also greatly assists with identifying any and all inventory deficiencies. This information is critical for projecting future chemical orders and securing sufficient amounts of chemicals that are required to deliver a successful control program. The use of tablets is proving to be a powerful tool and asset to the SLCP.

after picture of in stream habitat restoration

Trout Habitat Restoration on Wisconsin's Fish Creek

By Ted Koehler, Ashland FWCO

Northern Wisconsin’s Chequamegon Bay area is one of the most ecologically significant regions throughout the Lake Superior basin and its tributaries are home to self-sustaining populations of native brook trout. Despite this, the ongoing health and integrity of the Bay and its watershed is currently threatened by a wide range of historic stressors and emerging issues. To combat the issue of excess sedimentation a working partnership was built consisting of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bayfield County, Northland College, a private landowner and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO). The partnership, with funding provided through the Service’s Coastal Program restored and protected a portion of Fish Creek for the benefit of brook trout and other fish and wildlife. The project restored and stabilized a failing bank along Fish Creek by implementing in-stream bluff stabilization using bio-engineering with large wood. The project also employed mechanized stabilization of the bluff face which should allow the bluff to migrate to the appropriate angle of repose while keeping sediment to a minimum. Trees were also planted to stabilize the soil of the eroding bank.

According to multiple studies carried out from 1976 to the present, excess sedimentation is the largest non-point pollution concern affecting the health of Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay area watersheds. The excess sedimentation increases harbor maintenance and drinking water treatment costs for communities such as the City of Ashland. It also reduces recreational fishing, swimming, and boating opportunities in the bay and negatively impacts fish habitat within tributaries and the bay. The work performed through this project will benefit northern Wisconsin’s brook trout, Chequamegon Bay and surrounding local communities.

trawl net off back of commercial fishing boat

A deep-water trawl net is retrieved from the depths of Lake Michigan. Credit: Anthony Rieth, USFWS

We're Spawning for Success - Bloater Chub Restoration

By Anthony Reith, Green Bay FWCO

A small and lesser known fish, the bloater chub (bloater) is an ecologically and economically important prey fish species of the Great Lakes. Extirpated from Lake Ontario, efforts have been focused on reintroducing bloater due to its importance as a prey fish. Since 2011, crews from the Iron River, Jordan River, and Genoa National Fish Hatcheries, Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO), and Midwest Science Center have teamed up with the Susie Q Fish House in Two Rivers, Wisconsin to collect spawning bloater in the months of January and February.

Bloater are collected from Lake Michigan at depths exceeding 300 feet with a deep-water trawl aboard a 60 foot commercial fishing boat. Once on board the boat, fish are assessed by sex and ripeness. Those that are in peak spawning condition have their eggs and testes removed and hatchery staff quickly start the fertilization process.

While it sounds simple enough, this process is often complicated by weather conditions that can cause the boat to rock and jolt in several foot seas making even a simple task hard to complete. Once back on land, the eggs are rinsed a final time with fresh water and begin their journey to the hatchery to be raised as brood stock that will support stocking plans in Lake Ontario. Adult bloater that were spawned are processed in a laboratory setting. Information gathered from these fish includes, length, aging structures, genetic samples, and histological samples to check for disease presence.

We are very grateful for the many dedicated people who participate annually in this very important survey. We look forward to seeing successful bloater restoration in the years to come.

Field Focus | Carterville FWCO

burning for land restoration

Fire Presrve District staff and volunteers clear and burn invasive brush to allow room for native grass expansion. Credit: Eric Brossman, USFWS

Land Stewardship: A Great Way to Give Back to Your Community

By Eric Brossman, Carterville FWCO, Wilmington IL - Substation

As U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) employees, we all strive to be good stewards for conservation of plants, animals, and their habitats. Before I joined the USFWS I was employed, as a natural resource management technician, at the Forest Preserve District of Will County (FPDWC) in Illinois (IL). This work, as well as previous volunteer work for FPDWC, provided me an understanding of the environmental conservation needs within Will County’s natural areas.

At FPDWC, I worked alongside other staff members and volunteers on habitat improvement projects including clearing invasive brush, planting native plants, and prescribed burns on forest preserve lands. Many of the volunteers were part of the FPDWC volunteer stewardship program. The stewardship program assigns a volunteer to a forest preserve site to serve as a caretaker and carry out specific habitat restoration work within the site’s management plan. The steward works alongside FPDWC staff to prioritize conservation needs as part of the management plan.

Naturally, I became interested in being a volunteer steward. I chose Alessio Prairie in Crest Hill, IL as my site due to its proximity to my house and the low level of attention the site receives compared to other FPDWC areas. Having done restoration work at Alessio Prairie, as an employee, I was familiar with what work needed to be done to achieve the management plan’s restoration goals. Alessio Prairie is not a particularly large preserve and is surrounded by busy roads, businesses, and residential housing. Natural areas in urban setting are ecological oases with unique and ongoing challenges related to continued urbanization. For example, habitat fragmentation and influx of invasive plants are a constant concern for Alessio Prairie and other natural areas like it. However, regular monitoring and restoration can mitigate negative impacts and improve habitat quality and ecological resilience.

In addition to the habitat restoration, I monitor frog populations at Alessio Prairie in the spring and early summer. As amphibians are environmental indicator taxa, these annual surveys serve as a means to assess the ecological health of the area. For instance, every year I regularly hear Western Chorus Frogs  in early spring. However, if they are suddenly absent it could indicate something adverse has happened to that local population.

The stewardship program is vital to the FPDWC as well other preserves. The habitat conservation needs of the preserve often outnumber the staff available to care for them. The program allows more work to be done that would otherwise be logistically impossible. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for citizens to make a grass roots effort to improve their local community.

There's always more to our story...

a stamp with a lake stugeon

Break Out your Blue Goose Passports

By Gretchen Newberry, Midwest Fisheries Center

The Midwest Fisheries Center is the first Fish Technology Center to be listed in the Blue Goose Passport. First, it was the refuges, Waterfowl Management Areas, and the like. Then it was the National Fish Hatcheries. Now the Fish Technology Centers! In the 2020 printing, the Midwest Fisheries Center will be listed under the state of Wisconsin.

Don't wait until the next printing to buy a new passport, though. We already have the stamps! Next time you are here, have your Blue Goose Passport stamped with either our silver carp or lake sturgeon Midwest Fisheries Center stamps, or both. We even have a stamp to make an informational entry for the Midwest Fisheries Center in your Blue Goose Passport if you have an older edition.

Our office is comprised of the Whitney Genetics Laboratory, which processes thousands of invasive carp environmental DNA samples each year, the La Crosse Fish Health Center, which diagnoses and treats viral, bacterial parasitic diseases in mussels, fish and amphibians, and the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, which works on fish habitat partnerships and monitors invasive and native fish and mussel populations. We also have lobby displays and an aquarium featuring Mississippi River Watershed aquatic animals for visitors. Above: Get this cool stamp at Midwest Fisheries Center. Credit: Courtesy of Gretchen Newberry, USFWS

edit of 3 folks on nctc bridge

NCTC: A Great Place for Learning

By Cari-Ann Hayer, Green Bay FWCO

My class “Data Wrangling in R” is over for the day and I find myself on the poplar trail hurrying to get my hike in before the sun fades behind the trees. This trail follows the Potomac River. I see a deer staring at me before it bounces away, the birds are loud and I am relaxed after a long day of R coding. Anyone who has attended a training course at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, West Virginia will say that they learned a lot from their class, but typically will begin talking about the food available and maybe about the miniature college-like campus located in the woods with a backdrop of the Potomac River. Some say they gain 10 pounds, which is not good right after the holidays! There is something for everyone at NCTC (training and food). There were many different classes offered this week and I noticed that Region 3 employees were well represented with four in my class and at least three in another.

NCTC offers a plethora of classes on various topics such as supervision/leadership, statistics, outreach and more. It is truly a great setting for learning. I have attended classes here three times before and came away each time feeling refreshed, energized and ready to apply and share what I learned as soon as I got back to home base. This time is no different. I value learning in myself and encourage it in others so we not only increase our knowledge base, but we become better scientists as a result. Find your class and we will see you at NCTC. And if you can't make it to Shepherdstown there are other learning centers that offer NCTC courses across the country!

Above: Brad Smith, Grace Loppnow and Cari-Ann Hayer enjoy all that NCTC has to offer. Credit: USFWS

Fish Tales

Service Staff are Volunteer Judges at Science Fair

By Mark Fritts and Gretchen Newberry, Midwest Fisheries Center

Staff from the Midwest Fisheries Center (MFC) and Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) contributed their scientific expertise to the local community by volunteering as judges for the annual La Crescent Middle School Science Fair in Minnesota. Biologists, an environmental education specialist, a visitor services specialist and a veterinarian from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined other volunteer judges from the La Crescent community to assess more than 80 seventh grade student projects. The students developed and delivered many insightful and well-designed experiments for their projects. Because of the La Crescent community’s close association with both the Upper Mississippi River and agriculture, numerous students were inspired to develop projects assessing water quality, soil health, erosion, and forestry. For many of the students, this was their first time working on a research project and presenting it. A select group of these student projects will advance to a regional science fair to be held at Winona State University in February. From there, some of these projects could advance to the Minnesota state student science fair later this spring. Staff of the MFC and Genoa NFH congratulate these budding scientists and hope that our efforts to contribute to science education in our community will inspire some of these young people to pursue careers in conservation.

Green Bay Coordination Meeting a Success

By Anthony Reith and Sharon Rayford, Green Bay FWCO

Spanning 120 miles in length and 20 miles in width, the bay of Green Bay is the world’s largest freshwater estuary. Management of this complex ecosystem requires coordinated effort between several agencies including state governments, federal governments, tribes, universities, and other public and non-profit groups. Members of these groups convened in January 2020 at University of Wisconsin Green Bay for the fifth annual Green Bay Coordination Meeting. They shared research updates, ideas, and issues of concern with each other; promoting discussions on complex topics such as food web interactions with hypoxic (low oxygen) water conditions and management of fish that move through interstate waters. Coordinated sampling efforts, reduced sampling costs, shared research interests, and larger-scale projects are tangible results that come out of this yearly meeting with an end goal to improve the fishery resources of Green Bay.

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