Fish Lines March 2020 Edition

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

March 10, 2020

fish lines

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 tim_smigielski@fws.gov

Did You Know?

Aaron Woldt and family at a football game

Aaron and his family enjoy the Friday Night Lights at a howmetown football game. Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Woldt

Aaron Woldt Selected for Assistant Regional Director Post 

Regional Office - External Affairs

We in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are happy to announce that a long-time champion for aquatic conservation has officially taken the helm of Fish and Aquatic Conservation in the Great Lakes Region. This week, Aaron Woldt was named the new Assistant Regional Director for Fish and Aquatic Conservation. Woldt has been acting in this capacity since Todd Turner’s retirement on July 31, 2019.

“I am pleased to have Aaron aboard to lead our Fisheries program. His deep knowledge of fisheries and aquatic resources both in the Great Lakes and in the Upper Mississippi River, combined with his strong partnership skills, make him well-suited to lead this team of professionals,” said Regional Director Charlie Wooley.

For more than seven years before his acting role started last summer, Woldt was the Deputy Assistant Regional Director for Great Lakes Region Fish and Aquatic Conservation and focused his energy on providing administrative and budget support for 16 field stations and four substations, as well as supervising a regional office-based support staff of administrative and budget professionals. Continue Reading

fws staff lighting up trail and candle light trek

Hatchery staff and volunteers set the stage for a beautiful night along the trail at dusk. Credit: Andy Edwards

Promoting Outdoor Access at Iron River NFH

By Carey Edwards, Iron River NFH

This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the Candlelight Trek at the Iron River National Fish Hatchery (NFH). For a February night, we couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions…45 degrees, clear skies and light winds. By the light of luminaries, guests could walk, ski or snowshoe a mile long groomed trail. Nearly 200 trekkers made their way around the trail, campfire and visitor center and for the first time, hatchery staff had to direct traffic in our parking lot. A nice problem to have.

Most guests brought their own equipment, but snowshoes were available for use thanks to the Snowshoe Lending Program, sponsored by the Friends of the Iron River National Fish Hatchery. The Friends also supported the event by providing hot beverages and S’more fixings for guests to enjoy around the bonfire. Friends group representatives were also present to answer questions about membership and other Friends group activities.

Trekkers came from near and far. Many were repeat customers, but for some, it was their first time coming to the hatchery. Several newcomers vowed to return in the daylight for a hatchery tour and to check out the three mile Simpson Trail. Getting people together, recreating in the outdoors and making great memories is what it’s all about.

What’s next at Iron River? Stay tuned for updates on our Syrup Saturday event and spring opening of our 3D archery range. Come join us.

underwater picture of logperch in a hatchery tank

Logperch in their new home at Genoa NFH. Credit: Megan Bradley, USFWS

Logperch Roll into Genoa National Fish Hatchery

By Megan Bradley, Genoa National Fish Hatchery

Freshwater mussels are host specific, not just any fish will do. Snuffbox, a federally endangered species of mussel, depend on Logperch, a large darter that can grow up to approximately six inches and is found across the Midwest to transform their larvae into juvenile mussels. This fall a biologist with the Columbia Environmental Research Center in Missouri let us know that he’d had a great year raising Logperch in his ponds and we were able to pick them up in November. Five hundred Logperch arrived on station and were moved into quarantine. Logperch are a favored fish species because they learn very quickly to associate food with people and are charming when they beg for their breakfast with their rostrums (noses) out of the water. The Logperch are here to act as hosts for Snuffbox collected from the Wolf river system in the late fall. The hatchery is hosting three female Snuffbox collected from the Wolf River for the winter. Biologists from Genoa National Fish Hatchery and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources plan to infest the Logperch in the spring and then drop off and grow the juveniles for a couple of years before reintroducing the species back into Wolf River streams where the species has been extirpated.

completed culvert replacement

This completed culvert replacement reduces sediment inputs and re-connects Brook trout to stream habitat they could not previously reach. Credit: Ted Koehler, USFWS

Fish Passage Projects Completed in Marquette County, MI

By Ted Koehler, Ashland FWCO

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) has identified priority watersheds for brook trout habitat restoration and connectivity in the Lake Superior basin. In the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan (MI), these were developed in consultation with the Partners for Watershed Restoration (PWR) group and have been incorporated into the Ashland FWCO’s strategic habitat restoration plan.

Through this planning effort the Salmon Trout River watershed is ranked in the top five priority watersheds where habitat and connectivity restoration projects will best benefit brook trout. The Salmon Trout River watershed which drains 31,687 acres (50 square miles) in the Lake Superior basin in northern Marquette County, MI is home to native brook trout and one of the last surviving populations of naturally reproducing coaster brook trout in the Lake Superior basin. One of the primary sources of impact to the Salmon Trout River is sediment from unimproved gravel road crossings. In addition, poorly designed and/or failing culverts impede passage for native fish and aquatic organisms.

Two unimproved road crossings of a tributary to the East Branch Salmon Trout River restricted flow and blocked passage for native fish including brook trout and other aquatic life. The culverts were perched and undersized, causing overtopping of the road and sedimentation to the stream during high water events.

Two projects were then planned and executed by the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust in conjunction with the Ashland FWCO to replace the two failing culverts with a properly sized bottomless arch structures in order to improve passage for native fish and control sedimentation to the stream. Additional project activities included outreach to landowners and other watershed stakeholders to improve and protect water quality and fish habitat. Measurable outcomes of the projects include four miles of habitat upstream of the former barriers made available for native fish including brook trout, and approximately 20 tons of sediment controlled per year from the road crossings and approaches. Restoration of fish passage at these sites will have significant positive impacts to native species in the Salmon Trout River watershed.

FWS biologist shows bowfin captured during survey

USFWS crew member holding two bowfin, displaying breeding colors, captured during an electrofishing survey on the Des Plaines River. Credit: USFWS

Recovering Fish Species on the Des Plaines River, IL

Jen-Luc Abeln, Carterville FWCO - Wilmington, IL Substation

The Des Plaines River originates in southern Wisconsin and flows south through northeastern Illinois until it converges with the Kankakee River to form the Illinois River near Wilmington, Illinois (IL). The Des Plaines River is currently under management interest because of the water quality and increased species richness recovery it has undergone in the last 45 years and its connection with the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal (CSSC). The Illinois Department of Natural Resources surveyed fish species richness in the Des Plaines River intermittently from 1974 to 2018. These fish surveys have continually illustrated increases in species richness from only 20 species in the 1974 basin survey to 70 total unique species being identified across subsequent surveys. The mechanism or mechanisms responsible for the increased number of species are not fully understood but the potential drivers included improved water quality as a result of the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Tunnel and Reservoir Program (TARP) which has reduced wastewater runoff flowing into the Des Plaines River. Moreover, nine of the eleven dams on the Des Plaines River main stem have been removed since 2010 increasing river connectivity. Combined, the higher standards of water treatment, reduction in harmful runoff, and increase in connectivity of the river has made the Des Plaines more hospitable to fishes.

In 2019, the Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO)-Wilmington substation took over monitoring of the Des Plaines River for invasive carps which have been captured in the CSSC, roughly 6.5 km downstream of the confluence with the CSSC. The Des Plaines River runs parallel to the CSSC where the US Army Corps of Engineers-operated Electric Dispersal Barrier System helps prevent invasive carps from invading the Laurentian Great Lakes. As the Des Plaines River and CSSC are only separated by a small spit of land, high water events have historically connected the Des Plaines to the CSSC during overflow flooding events that could enable invasive fishes to bypass the Electric Dispersal Barrier System. However, this threat has been minimized through the installation of physical barrier fence that doesn’t allow fish passage during flooding.

In 2019, no invasive carp were caught by the Wilmington crew. However, four native species were identified in the field that are not currently present in the 2018 basin survey. The novel species included Bigmouth Buffalo, River Shiner, Channel Shiner, and Bullhead Minnow. All of these species persist downstream in the CSSC, suggesting an upstream range expansion with colonization of the Des Plaines River. Brandon Road Lock and Dam in the CSSC just downstream of Des Plaines River confluence is slated for modification to limit upstream passage of invasive carps within the current decade. These modifications would also limit upstream passage of native fish which may reduce further species richness increases in the Des Plaines River. The Wilmington crew will continue to monitor for and prevent the spread of invasive carps and report novel species to our partner agencies for ongoing biodiversity assessment.

sturgeon in the classroom aquarium

Lake sturgeon acclimate to their new classroom tank. Credit: Glenn Miller, USFWS

Sturgeon in the Classroom Comes to Michigan's Upper Peninsula

By Henry Quinlan and Glenn Miller, Ashland FWCO

Located in the remote western Upper Peninsula (U.P.) is Michigan’s largest tributary to Lake Superior, the Ontonagon River. Federal, state, and tribal agencies are working together to restore a population of the largest fish in the Great Lakes, the lake sturgeon, to this river system. From 1998 to 2019, efforts to restore the population have focused on rearing and stocking young lake sturgeon and surveys to assess their abundance, movement, and growth. This fall, those efforts took on an additional component in the form of an education and outreach program known as, Sturgeon in the Classroom (SITC).

Sturgeon in the Classroom began with a partnership between Michigan Department of Natural Resources (Michigan DNR) and Michigan’s Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow and expanded to include the St. Clair-Detroit River Chapter. In the U.P. the Sturgeon in the Classroom program involves the Forest Service’s Ottawa National Forest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, Michigan DNR, and five western U.P. school districts (Bessemer, Ewen-Trout Creek, Ironwood, Ontonagon, and Wakefield) located in or near the Ontonagon River watershed. The goal of the Sturgeon in the Classroom program is to incorporate hands-on, place-based education to educate students about lake sturgeon biology and restoration, and the importance of conservation and stewardship of the environment. One teacher from each school district was selected to raise fingerling lake sturgeon that were five to six inches long (currently fish are 10-15 inches long) in their classroom during the school year. There are a total of 90 students involved in the program. Each teacher selected received an orientation to the program and equipment in the form of a 50-gallon aquarium, aquarium stand and supplies, scale and measuring board, and frozen food. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired equipment and supplies for the program with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds provided through the U.S. Forest Service.

In late September, each participating classroom received a visit from biologists with the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to receive the fingerling lake sturgeon that they will raise in their classrooms until spring. The fish were raised since June at the Ontonagon River streamside rearing trailer located at the Bergland Dam. Students in each classroom are responsible for maintaining and cleaning the aquarium, testing the water quality, measuring fish growth, and feeding the fish. Each week students measure fish growth and calculate the quantity of feed needed. Biologists from the partner agencies will periodically visit each classroom to talk about lake sturgeon and watershed conservation topics related to Lake Superior and the Ontonagon River. Near the end of the school year each fish will receive a passive integrated transponder tag with a unique identification number. The grain of rice-sized tag allows individual fish to be identified if agency biologists recapture it in the future. Each classroom will release the fish they raised in the Ontonagon River to contribute to restoration efforts. Students will be able stay connected to “their” fish for the next 50-100 years through the Great Lakes Lake Sturgeon Tag Identification Database that stores agency contact information for tagged lake sturgeon.

Field Focus: La Crosse Fish Health Center

Ken Phillips instructs students at the fish health course

Ken Phillips with La Crosse FHC instructs during one of the lab sessions. Credit: USFWS

La Crosse FHC Delivers Popular Fish Health Course

By Ken Phillips, La Crosse Fish Health Center

Located in Onalaska, Wisconsin the La Crosse Fish Health Center (FHC) is one of six Fish Health Centers operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Center provides inspection and diagnostic services to National Fish Hatcheries and Tribal Fish Hatcheries in our Region, technical assistance to state, Federal and Tribal partners, participates in the National Wild Fish Health Survey, and provides education and outreach to the public and to fishery professionals.

For the past 40-plus years, the keystone of the Center’s outreach and education program is the “Introduction to Fish Health” course, a one-week course that provides hatchery biologists, management biologists, researchers, and other fishery professionals information on fish health. Using a mixture of classroom and laboratory exercises, students learn to recognize the signs of infectious, environmental, and nutritional diseases, as well as detailed information about the bacterial, fungal, parasitic and viral pathogens of fish, biosecurity protocols to prevent the spread of pathogens and disease, treatment methods, and the laboratory procedures used at the Center. Students also get plenty of “hands-on” opportunities in the course, including fish necropsy and parasite search, and trying their hand at performing some of the same laboratory assays that Center staff use. The week culminates with students being placed into teams and participating in a Jeopardy-style game to test their knowledge of what they learned during the week.

In addition to the Jeopardy-style game, one of the more popular events of the course is the parasite search. Using several species of Mississippi River fish that were caught by Center staff the previous week, students perform necropsies looking for parasites. During their searches, students typically observe numerous types of parasites, including protozoans, tapeworms, nematodes, and flukes. The parasites are typically alive, making it easy for the students to spot them on or in the fish! (Note: this is also popular with Center staff because of all the parasites seen, and because some of the staff get to spend time ice fishing to catch the fish for the course!).

While the course is fun for both students and instructors alike, the course provides valuable training to hatchery and field biologists on the implementation of biosecurity practices and to recognize signs of disease, both important in the prevention and control of fish diseases. Offered each in late January or early February, the course is popular with hatchery and management biologists from throughout the United States, and fills quickly each year. For additional information, contact the La Crosse FHC, or the National Conservation Training Center.

There's always more to our story...

mosquito fish caught with hook and line "micro-fishing"

Micro-Fishing: Exploring the Diversity of Small Fishes

By Eric Brossman, Carterville FWCO-Wilmington, IL Substation

Comprising approximately 25% of all vertebrate diversity, freshwater fishes are amongst the most diverse vertebrate taxa globally with over 15,000 described species. As researchers we have a variety of interests in exploring fish diversity. We have gear for collecting a variety of species including seines, nets, and various forms of electrofishing. Recreational fish enthusiasts are typically not going to have access to all of this gear but there are alternatives avenues for exploring the underwater world of diversity.

Snorkeling in small rivers and streams is a great way to view fishes in their natural habitat; if you’re mindful about your movements you can get fairly close to the fish. I personally enjoy this method for observing cyprinids and darters that are displaying spawning behaviors with colorations that rival those of coral reef fishes. Another option is micro-fishing.

Micro-fishing is, as the name suggests, hook and line fishing for smaller species of fish. The hooks will, undoubtedly, be tiny; anywhere from size 14 to 20 and the target fishes small but there is more to micro fishing than simply catching tiny fish. Considering the great diversity of non-gamefish, especially smaller cyprinids (minnows and shiners), the thrill comes from not being sure what you’ll catch. It isn’t difficult to start micro-fishing but one needs to think outside the box when it comes to gearing up. Due to their smaller size, choosing pre-tied hooks to leaders (snells) saves time and frustration of tying the hook to the line. Fly fishing supplies are a good resource for micro fishing tackle. Barbless hooks with a longer shank will make unhooking and releasing tiny fishes easier and less stressful on the fish. A size 20 nymph hook tied to a 7x tippet with a small strike indicator float would work as a leader tied to the fishing line. A small split shot weight pinched on a few inches from the hook will help get the bait to the desired depth. Like conventional fishing, presentation is everything. Bait on the surface will attract aggressive feeders such as killifish while baits fished near the bottom will attract benthic species such as sculpins and darters. Worms and other aquatic macroinvertebrates are all around good choices for bait. Crappie rods are economical but their long length might by cumbersome. Tenkara rods are similar to crappie rods only shorter. They can be more expensive and their short length limits their reach to likely spots that hold fish.

Initially seeing photos of the tiny hooks next to pennies for scale and anglers balancing their catch between the thumb and index finger was enough to garner a chuckle. You’re not likely hear the screaming drag from a reel or pray the line doesn’t break. But for fish enthusiasts, enjoyment comes from exploring overlooked opportunities while using unconventional methods for exploring the diversity of fishes. For those interested in exploring fish diversity, please check out the North American Native Fish Association (nanfa.org). Photo: Eastern Mosquitofish caught on hook and line, note the small hook. Credit: www.microfishing.com

bald eagle roosted on a dead branch

The Great Backyard Bird Count a Success at Genoa NFH

By Raena Parsons, Genoa NFH

On Saturday February 15 volunteers with the Coulee Region Audubon Society led a family-friendly bird walk at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH). 14 people of various ages made the trek to the hatchery to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The GBBC is a worldwide citizen science project that takes place over four days every February where participants collect data on wild birds and can see results in near real-time. Participants counted 25 Bald Eagles, 6 Common Mergansers, 6 Killdeer, 1 Wilson’s Snipe, and 1 Peregrine Falcon during a 45 minute walk at the hatchery. A huge thank you goes out to the Audubon Society volunteers, Dan and Roger. This event would not have been possible without you!

Photo: Many bald eagles were seen during the Great Backyard Bird Count and family hike at Genoa NFH. Credit: Janet Smigielski

Fish Tales

Winter Fun also Means Fixing Stuff at Genoa NFH

By Doug Aloisi, Genoa NFH

Winter is typically a time where the hatchery staff can begin to repair the damage to our buildings and equipment, as well as add improvements that our maintenance staff would not be able to do during the production season. This winter was no exception, with maintenance necessary to equipment crucial to the operation of our offsite mussel rearing trailer. Also included was the installation of a new iron filter for removing iron from culture water before it is used on our walleye egg incubation battery. This raises the capacity of our previous iron filter by over 300%, which will allow us to increase water flows within the system to reduce fungus growth and increase egg survival. Also included within the system is the installation of a three phase pump with a variable frequency drive, which should save on the hatchery's electric bill this coming spring. The station's mussel trailer is a good object lesson on how hard life can get in a trailer down by the River. It started its life as a converted tool trailer back in 2009. In 10 years the flooring was developing soft spots and one of the interior walls was harboring a fungi species. After its 10th season in the field, the floor was fixed, walls were purged of mold and fungi and painted and new waterproof LED lighting was installed. Culture and UV systems were also maintained and readied for the coming spring deployment. The trailer is deployed at a local Corps of Engineers Campground which is adjacent to the mighty Mississippi. The River is the trailer's water source, bringing with it the tiny microscopic particles the young mussel larvae need to survive, and is crucial to the success of Genoa's mussel program. Now the only thing needed is the changing of the season. Even with the snow cover, the days are growing longer, and the staff is growing more anxious to put their new and renewed equipment through its paces. Come on spring!

Details...Details...Volunteers Answer the Call

By Nick Bloomfield, Genoa NFH

We were able to finish up harvest of the Fathead Minnow pond in December. We brought in over 2.6 million minnows! Many of these went into overwintering ponds to sustain broodstock and future mussel host fish over the winter. We also brought some inside to be used for feeding other fish on station. Not all of these minnows are destined to be a meal for a bigger fish, however. Using a grader, which separates bigger fish from smaller ones, we set aside tens of thousands of the biggest minnows we had. These lucky ones will go back out to the pond in the spring, their only goal being to produce millions more for next year. Unfortunately, there are some unwanted friends lurking within. Brook Sticklebacks frequently infiltrate the minnow pond and reproduce themselves. They are not as desirable a meal for fish as Fatheads, and the reason why is hidden in their name. This is where the volunteers come in. With their help, we are able to go through every minnow that will go back into the minnow pond and remove the sticklebacks. Hopefully that action combined with a good winterkill in the pond will result in a better food source for 2020. We couldn’t do it without the help of our volunteers!

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