Fish Lines April 2020 Edition

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

April 2020 Edition

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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


NOTE: The events and any work highlighted in this edition of Fish Lines was completed prior to the directives on the importance of social distancing.

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Did You Know?

aerial view of Genoa NFH

Aerial view of the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. Credit: USFWS

Genoa NFH Offers New "Virtual Tour"


Raena Parsons, our Environmental Education Specialist at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH), is concerned with being able to share the ongoing work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) still happening at the Genoa NFH site during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time of extended sheltering in place, the ability of the public to safely visit the hatchery’s Visitor Center is not available. So Raena decided to do the next best thing. She created a virtual tour targeting all ages of audiences. The virtual tour describes the how and why of our mission to protect the nation’s fish and wildlife resources for the benefit of the American people. We are proud of Raena and excited to present a virtual tour of the hatchery while we are anxiously awaiting the end of this current chapter of the fight against the COVID-19 virus. 

Alpena FWCO survey page in Arc Gis Survey 123

Alpena FWCO using Survey 123

Matthew McLean, Alpena FWCO

Starting with the 2019 field season, the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) implemented the use of Esri software Survey 123 and tablets to begin collecting Aquatic Invasive Species Early Detection and Monitoring (AIS EDM) field data. Jacob Cochran at the Lower Great Lakes FWCO first implemented this new method and built the survey for his office that was then adapted to work for the Alpena office. With Jacob’s help, the Alpena FWCO was able to start using this software with tablets in early spring of 2019.

This electronic method for collecting and storing data has many advantages. The primary advantage is that transcribing data from paper data sheets into an electronic database is no longer necessary. All of the data is collected electronically in the field and stored in the cloud on AGOL (ArcGIS Online). From there it is a simple matter of downloading the data in a variety of format choices (Excel, CSV, Shapefile, File Geodatabase, etc.). However, you do not need to download the data to view and manipulate it. AGOL allows you to view your data in table or map format on the cloud. One other huge advantage is, this method eliminates the possibility of accidentally losing or destroying any paper data sheets. Struggling to decipher and potentially misinterpret poor penmanship is also no longer an issue with electronic data entry in Survey 123.

In 2020 the Alpena FWCO will be using a survey that they built specifically for their AIS EDM program. This will allow the Alpena office to tailor the survey to fit their individual needs and provide edits and updates to the survey without as much assistance from Lower Great Lakes FWCO. Building a survey in Survey 123 is relatively simple, depending on how complex it needs to be. The survey forms are made using software called Survey 123 Connect. There is an option to download an existing survey to work from or the user can start completely from scratch. The actual construction part is done via an excel spreadsheet where you enter a variety of different commands and coding language. Once the survey is built it is then ready to be published where it can be viewed and used by whomever the user prefers.  

There is an initial learning curve to develop surveys using Survey 123, however we’ve learned that the advantages to using this software with technology are well worth it. Photo Credit: Matt McLean, USFWS

paddle boat moving to construction site on mississippi river

A paddleboat moving toward Lock and Dam 8 construction site on the Mississippi River. Credit: Courtesy of USFWS

The Great River Road Center Opens New Exhibit


The Great River Road Interpretive Center (Center) has a new exhibit to call its own. We are proud to be able to display the history of the construction of Lock and Dam 8 on the Mississippi River (River) built just up the road from the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) at the Genoa Wisconsin site.

This pictorial history is being displayed in the local history room of the Center, and was compiled by local historian Anne Muirhead. Included is the method of diverting the mighty Mississippi to allow for construction, the construction of the retaining dike and spillway, the construction of the locks using historic steam shovels, and pictures of the local crews of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was a depression era work program initiated by the Roosevelt Administration to put people back to work on public works projects across the country. Also included in the pictures is an image of a steam powered paddleboat moving down the River, the historic mode of transportation at the time. Paddleboats were used due to their low draft, or profile in the River, that allowed them to move through shallow areas safely without running aground in the pre-lock and dams reaches of the River.

Once the navigation system was constructed and in use, a navigation channel of nine foot depth is now maintained, allowing the current barges to transport their goods on the River. The dike at Genoa is over 3.3 miles long and the dam structure is 934 feet long. The lock can accommodate barges with lengths of over 500 feet long, and typically moves over 16 million tons of cargo down the River annually.

The Great River Road Interpretive Center was built as a collaborative effort with the National Scenic Byways Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It's mission is to educate and inform Great River Road travelers on the unique geography, natural history and local history of the region, while including conservation messages for the public. For more information about the center, please visit us on Facebook or feel free to call the station at 608-689-2605.

sampling sites for adult and juvenile fish

Lake Huron and Lake Erie locations sampled for juvenile and adult fish during 2019. Credit: Matt McLean, USFWS

Summary of New Invasive Fish and Invertebrate Sampling in Lakes Erie and Huron


During late November 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) AIS early detection and monitoring program (AIS EDM) completed annual surveys to detect new invasive juvenile/adult fish and invertebrate species at priority locations on lakes Erie and Huron. No new invasive species were discovered following sampling, however range expansions were detected for ruffe, tubenose goby and spiny waterflea – species that are currently found in the Great Lakes.

A total of 110,069 juvenile and adult fish were examined for new invasive species across all Lake Erie and Lake Huron locations – 25 locations - during 2019. A total of 73,463 were examined across 16 Lake Erie locations. Similarly, a total of 36,606 fish were examined across nine Lake Huron locations. A variety of sampling gears were used to collect fish including fyke nets, trawls, electrofishing, and seines. A range expansion of ruffe was documented in the St. Marys River (MI) at Raber Bay near Lime Island, and tubenose goby was documented at the Cheboygan River (MI) and Maumee Bay (MI). A range expansion was also documented for spiny waterflea at the Port of Sandusky in Sandusky Bay (OH).

Program changes for juvenile and adult fish sampling included a protracted sampling season, reduced fish handling, and more efficient efforts. These changes resulted in a larger number of samples and a higher number of locations sampled during 2019 than past years. Past EDM efforts targeted late summer, a time when juvenile fish recruit to fish sampling gear, and employed random sampling to account for the whole fish community. In 2019, we  sampled seasonally across our area of coverage, sampling from April through November, and  moved away from random sampling to target locations/habitats where the greatest number of unique or rare species had been collected in the past. We also incorporated time saving measures including reduced fish handling-collecting lengths on a fewer number of fish per effort, using tablets and Survey 123 to record data electronically in the field, and real-time evaluation of sampling effort and catch to maximize effort at each location. Time saving measures allowed us to sample a greater number of locations beyond our annually sampled seven high risk locations and in to additional high risk locations. The additional high risk locations were sampled for existing populations of invasives that may not have otherwise been assessed or examined. We also incorporated some new gears – a most notable change was the use of a boat seine in areas where high turbidity severely restricted electrofishing.

A total of 16,185 benthic organisms were examined for the presence of high priority invasive watch species identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. No new invasive species were discovered. Benthos (amphipods/bivalves/gastropods) were sampled at five priority locations across lakes Erie and Huron. Rock bag colonization samplers were used to collect benthos. Targeted sampling for crayfish was conducted at Maumee Bay (OH/MI) and Saginaw Bay (MI) using baited Gee minnow traps, however no crayfish were collected. Tubenose goby, round goby, and spiny waterflea were collected in rock bags addition to target organisms consisting of amphipods, bivalves, and gastropods.

Information from these surveys will be compiled into annual reports and made available on the Alpena FWCO website at (

edited version of FWS biologist holding silver carp at swan lake

This adult silver carp (Asian carp) was captured at Swan Lake within the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge during an electrofishing fish community survey. Credit: USFWS

Carterville FWCO Completes Fisheries Survey at Swan Lake on Three Rivers NWR


In early March, staff from the Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) conducted an electrofishing fish community survey at Swan Lake within the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Two Rivers NWR is located in Brussels, Illinois at the confluences of the Mississippi and Illinois River. The refuge comprises of 9,225 acres of riverine and floodplain habitat scattered between the two rivers. More than 240 species of birds use Two Rivers NWF as a stopover point along their migratory journey, and bald eagles use it as over-wintering habitat which makes Two Rivers NWF a popular place for bird enthusiasts.

Staff from the Carterville FWCO will be completing a third year of evaluation efforts on Swan Lake. Electrofishing is used to track changes to the fish community over the year while a survey in late summer evaluates the number of Asian carp removed from the river system. Swan Lake is a 2,400 acre impounded body of water separated from the Illinois River by a low-elevation dike. Water control structures allow the refuge staff to raise and lower water levels within Swan Lake based on management needs to benefit wildlife.

Fish captured during the survey included bluegill, green sunfish, pumpkin seed, largemouth bass, gizzard shad, and numerous Asian carp. It is believed that during drawdown events, when the water is lowered in the lake that native fish species move out of the lake while Asian carp remain behind and get trapped. If so, large numbers of Asian carp could be removed. This was evident during the 2018 surveys. Flooding during 2019 prevented a total drawdown and the chance to confirm this response by the fish community. Swan Lake could become a useful management area and tool for the fight against invasive Asian carp in the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Future surveys and research will be conducted at the location to determine the possible validity of Swan Lake as an Asian carp removal tool.

visitors try their hand at the fish cutout shadow activity

Young attendee matching fish cutouts to their shadows on activity mat. Credit: Janine Lajavic, USFWS

Invasive Species Awareness at Detroit's Outdoor Adventure Center


Invasive species awareness is fundamental when protecting the Great Lakes from new potential invaders. Citizens and professionals alike need to know what these new invasive species look like so they can better detect and report them. Our Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) works directly with aquatic invasive species early detection and monitoring. During an invasive species awareness event at the Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit, Michigan, our staff directed a matching game activity to show how similar juvenile Asian Carps can look to some of our native fish species. It is easy to distinguish the bigger adult fish, but when they are only minnow size, this becomes very difficult as many of the visitors learned. The purpose of this activity was to demonstrate, in a fun way, how important it is not to release your bait after you have finished fishing. Since the Outdoor Adventure Center has live native fishes display, we explained how keeping new invasive species out of the Great Lakes protects all our native species including threatened species like lake sturgeon.

edited seine net haul of asian carp on kentucky lake

The seine is now full of Asian Carp ready to be harvested! Credit: Rosalee Reese, USFWS

The Modified Unified Method of Asian Carp Removal at Kentucky Lake


A new method of Asian Carp removal was tested at Kentucky Lake in February of 2020. Kentucky Department of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teamed up to implement the Modified Unified Method. This method originated in China, where it has long been used to harvest various food species. It has been adapted to backwaters and natural lakes in the Illinois River Basin with great success.

This project involved removal efforts in two bays of Kentucky Lake (Smith and Pisgah) and took almost a month from start to finish. Smith bay was worked first, followed by Pisgah bay. To begin the process, a block net was set across the mouth of each bay. In order to evaluate the efficacy of the removal, hydro acoustic and sonar side scan data were collected after the bays were closed, but before the fish were herded and removed. Once the pre-removal scans were completed, the bays were sectioned off into a series of cells by additional nets. Cells were systematically cleared of fish using electricity and sound boats and blocked off from the remaining open water. As the days progressed, the fish accumulated in smaller and smaller cells. Once this process was completed, the harvest cell was seined using a 1000 foot seine and winched to shore. The fish were then removed by commercial harvesters.

This method is a new method for man-made lakes, and shows promise for effective and efficient removal of Asian Carp. While logistically challenging due to the large amount of man power, boats, and nets needed, the process can be modified and adapted to different systems and streamlined to become more efficient.

benthic sample contents in petri dish

Petri dish with rock bag sample partially consisting of fish, bivalve zebra, quagga mussels, and debris. Credit: Eddie Barta, USFWS

Benthic Sample Processing Completed


During late winter, Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) wrapped up processing of 2019 Lake Huron and Lake Erie benthos samples for the presence of new invasive species. Benthic macroinvertebrates are organisms visible to the naked eye that lack a spine and inhabit the bottom of streams, lakes, and rivers. They include snails, mussels, worms, insects, crustaceans, and many others. They occupy a vital part of the aquatic food chain, and many species of fish and terrestrial organisms rely on them as food. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) identified five invasive macroinvertebrate species of most concern for establishing in each of the Great Lakes. Lake Huron efforts targeted high risk invasive Demon shrimp, Killer shrimp, Chinese mitten crab, Red swamp crayfish, and Marbled crayfish; and Lake Erie targeted high risk invasive Demon shrimp, Killer shrimp, Channeled applesnail, Golden mussel, and Marbled crayfish. These species have become detrimental in other parts of the world where they are established. Alpena FWCO sampled benthos for Demon shrimp, Killer shrimp, Channeled applesnail, and Golden mussel using rock bag colonization samplers in varied habitats at high risk for invasion locations. Crayfish were sampled separately.

A total of 154 samples were processed from five locations and 38 sites throughout Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Sampling locations included Saginaw Bay and the Detroit River in Michigan, and Maumee Bay, Sandusky Bay, and Cleveland Harbor in Ohio. Our Detroit River substation set rock bag traps during mid-July and retrieved them in mid-September. Rock bag colonization samplers were utilized because they collect a wide variety of organisms, are easily deployed, and are inexpensive. After 10-12 weeks in the water, the rock bags were collected and preserved then transferred to Alpena for processing. Alpena FWCO fisheries technicians deconstructed the rock bags, sorted their contents, and screened a total of 16,142 benthic macroinvertebrates (3 mm or larger) for the list of targeted high risk new invasive species. The bulk of the winter months were spent processing the samples. No targeted high risk new invasive species were identified among the samples- however existing invasive species were collected including spiny water flea, tubenose goby, and round goby. The greatest number of organisms were found in rock bags recovered from Maumee Bay at 48.9 percent of the total organisms observed. Findings have been compiled into an annual report and will be made available to interested state and federal agencies.

The Alpena FWCO has been sampling benthic organisms as part of their aquatic invasive species early detection and monitoring program since 2013. Currently, four USFWS FWCOs conduct benthos sampling for aquatic invasive species early detection and monitoring across the Great Lakes.

Field Focus - Neosho National Fish Hatchery

senior fishing day at Neosho NFH

Good Fishing...during the 2019 Senior Fishing Derby Event at Neosho NFH. Credit: USFWS

Here's What Makes Good Fishing...Good Fishing


Hello Friends, unlike most National Fish Hatcheries, Neosho National Fish Hatchery (NFH) operates within city limits. We are foremost and first of all a rainbow trout mitigation hatchery supplying Lake Taneycomo in Branson, Missouri with 180,000 beautiful 10.5 – 11.0 inch rainbow trout. Other species propagated on station include endangered Pallid sturgeon, endangered Topeka shiners, freshwater mussels and their associated host fish. Each of these programs present it's own set of challenges and like most of us in this line of work we except these challenges and ultimately become innovators and problem solvers to as we say “help the resource”. And we do that each and every day, day in and day out and take a lot of pride in doing so, but here at Neosho NFH we also cater to “the people”. They truly are one of our greatest resources.

Neosho NFH generally has somewhere between 60,000 to 65,000 visitors in most years. Some are regulars that come to exercise or walk the dog or feed the fish, some even just come to sit on the back porch of the Visitor center and read or listen to the water flowing between our outdoor ponds. We also get visitors from around the country; actually, from around the world. It’s been surprising who we’ve hosted. But by far one of my most memorable moments happened at one of our Senior Fishing derbies.

Our fishing derbies are definitely a community event. The entire community pitches in to make things happen. The Friends of Neosho Fish Hatchery, local businesses, major fish tackle companies, everyone donates what we need to put on these events. We feed the participants and their families, all food donated, it’s absolutely awesome.

At one such event I was assisting an elderly couple. Through our conversations this man mentioned that he had an accident on the farm, eventually became wheelchair bound and now resides in one of the visiting nursing homes. His wife was still living on the family farm. She had never fished before but wanted to attend the event with him. He was teaching his wife, and she was fishing for the very first time. I learned this as we chatted when he and I made a trip to the restroom. When we returned to where they were fishing, the fish were biting and they were pulling out some whoppers...but his wife had placed her fishing rod beside the pond and was waiting patiently for him to return before she began fishing again herself, very touching. My gift to them, just three hours of my time. Their gift to me, priceless.

Often times it’s not the good fishing that makes good fishing. Most often, it’s the good company that makes good fishing...good fishing.

And...there's always more to the story

pontoon boats hauling christmas tree habitat structures

Christmas Tree Recycling in Crab Orchard Lake


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) staff assisted the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with their annual Christmas tree drop at Crab Orchard Lake. The Illinois DNR staff hosts this event each year with the goals being to help create structure for fish and to provide an opportunity for volunteers to give back to the community.

On a Saturday morning in February, Carterville FWCO staff met the Illinois DNR staff and volunteers to assemble, load, and drop Christmas tree structures into Crab Orchard Lake. These structures were by no means anything fancy but rather just some good old-fashioned cinder blocks, metal wire, and three to four Christmas trees bundled together. By attaching the bunched Christmas trees together with the wire and securing them to the cinder blocks, these new structures were ready to go. Three large flat deck pontoon boats were used to transport the newly made structures to their desired locations. Once dropped in the water, the new habitat was created, primarily with crappie in mind. Crappies are a pan fish that are a prime target for many fishermen in all of the contiguous United States. They tend to aggregate near structures, and providing this habitat gives them a place to congregate and an opportunity for fishermen. Crab Orchard Lake has a decent crappie population, and every improvement helps to support this fishery.

Multiple structures were placed within the lake that day with the help of the DNR and USFWS staff and volunteers. Many avid fishermen participated in the event and hopefully, will benefit from this and return again next year to help with the project. This unique event allows agencies and volunteers to work together on a project to improve habitat quality. In addition, volunteers may walk away with a new secret fishing spot!

Boats hauling Christmas tree structures to their final destination on Crab Orchard Lake. Credit: Benjamin Bejcek, USFWS


Building Accessibility into our Reporting

Jessica Kosiara, Alpena FWCO

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) provides web-based and social media products that are accessible to people with disabilities under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 details requirements for electronic and information technology to be accessible for information sharing.

During the winter, the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) updated and reformatted Aquatic Invasive Species Early Detection and Monitoring Program reports from 2013-2019 to meet standards laid out in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This was a first effort, with the goal of converting all station reports to be Section 508 compliant. Once compliant the information may be shared via web and social media. Documents require special formatting in order for assistive technology to properly convey content to users and often require additional, “hidden” information to improve access and interpretation.

Alpena FWCO staff used built-in Accessibility Checker tools in Adobe Acrobat to find and repair accessibility issues within each document. Using Adobe’s Accessibility tools, over 30 parameters were assessed for each document. Some issues required a simple fix such as following prompts to select the appropriate language setting or providing a document title. More complex issues required manual fixes, which were often explained via web linked information pages. For example, all document items need to be tagged appropriately by structure type (paragraphs, lists, headings, tables, etc.) and content order (1, 2, 3…) in order for assistive technology to accurately read and deliver document content to end-users.

While there is a tool that automatically tags items, many tags needed to be reviewed and edited manually. Figures and tables required additional attention with alternative text written for each figure or table describing the general content. Many tables needed restructuring to reach compliance. Complex tables with layered headings and merged cells are difficult for assistive technologies to interpret which can result in confusing and even unintelligible output for users. For these tables, headings were simplified or combined so that tables had an equal number of rows per column or columns per row. This streamlined table structure, along with properly tagged header and data cells allows assistive technology to read all data points, match them to appropriate row and column headers and convey the information in a logical way to users. Without completing this process many data-heavy documents would be unintelligible to assistive technology and inaccessible to some individuals.

Thus far 16 reports have been updated to meet 508 accessibility standards. Through these efforts, Alpena FWCO staff have gained a better understanding of the obstacles often faced by persons with disabilities when accessing data. Moving forward, lessons learned from this process will help staff incorporate accessibility standards as new documents are created, will ensure that information and data are accessible to USFWS employees and the public in a fair and timely manner.

Informing the Public about Invasive Species and Programs Delivered by the USFWS

Steven Gambicki, Alpena FWCO

For years, staff from the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) have been involved in informing local clubs about environmental topics. The Presque Isle Community Men’s Club from Presque Isle, Michigan recently reached out to the Alpena FWCO to have a guest speaker at their monthly meeting in February. Steven Gambicki from the Alpena FWCO enthusiastically accepted the invitation.  

On February 6th 2020, technician Steven Gambicki provided a presentation to 25 members of the Presque Isle Community Men’s Club about the important programs being delivered at the Alpena FWCO office. The presentation included the topics, native species restoration, aquatic habitat restoration, and the aquatic invasive species early detection and monitoring program.  

Although the presentation focused mainly on the aquatic invasive species program, it was a great opportunity to provide the public with some information about the many programs delivered by Alpena FWCO, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After the presentation, club members asked questions mainly concerning the status of invasive species in the Great Lakes.  

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