Fish Lines May 2020 Edition

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

May 14, 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


Note: Some of the work or events included in this edition was completed prior to the guidance on the importance of social distancing.

Did You Know?

fishers and farmers steering committee poses for picture during 10th anniversary

The Fishers and Farmers Steering Commitee Celebrates 10th Anniversary. Credit: Heidi Keuler, USFWS, Image Courtesy of Fishers and Farmers Partnership

Fishers and Farmers Partnership Celebrates 10 Years


Since 2010, we’ve connected across boundaries to fund projects that benefit farms, fish, and people. Our focus is shared work for resilient lands, confident farmer leaders, and effective farmer-driven soil health and watershed initiatives. Read more

child looking at water in a pond while fishing

Virtual Fishing Week Coming May 16-24


In partnership with the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge - La Crosse District and the Allamakee County Conservation Board, Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) will be hosting a Virtual Fishing Week May 16-24. Each day will feature a different theme with information tidbits and activities. The best way to stay informed of the activities and events is to follow our Facebook page. Activities and information will also be posted to our website by Saturday, May 16 under Get Involved. We hope you will join us for our virtual fishing week and find some time to get out and fish! Fishing at the hatchery is not allowed, please find a fishing spot close to your home. Please remember to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by maintaining a safe distance between yourself and other groups.  Photo: Courtesy of Raena Parsons, USFWS

Carterville FWCO staff member tag an Asian carp

Ohio River Asian Carp Tagging


Field season began at the end of February when staff members from the Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) headed to the midde Ohio River to work on the Asian Carp acoustic telemetry project. These efforts are used to understand the movement patterns and distribution of Asian carp in the Ohio River and tributaries. One goal this year is to tag about 100 carp in McAlpine pool. Two boats were used with one boat electrofishing to capture Asian carp for tagging and the other boat as a mobile tagging station. Each carp was measured for total length and weight and then sexed by secondary sex characteristics of the pectoral fin. Male carp have pronounded ridges on the dorsal surface of their pectoral fins, distinguishing them from females. Individually-coded, ultrasonic transmitters were surgically implanted after the fish were enumerated. For the new biological science technicians, this was our frist time tagging Asian carp. For me this was also my first time surgically implanting transmitters, and differed greatly from my past experience tagging sea turtles. Lucky for my fellow technician and I on the tagging boat, we had a wonderful lead biologist, Rosalee Reese, to demonstrate the techinques. The process involves making a small incision in the abdomen of the fish, inserting the transmitter into the gut cavity, and closing the incision with several sutures. For me, learning how to the suture the incision was the most difficult part, but after practicing and Rosalee’s tips I got the feel for it. This trip was cut short due to equipment malfunction and only a few carp were caught and tagged. I am personally looking forward to getting back on the water to catch more carp once we all can get back in the field.

Above: Carterville FWCO staff acoustic tagging Asian carp. Credit: USFWS

final inspection of island habitat restoration for turns

A final inspection by the partners at "Ashland Tern Island". Credit: Photo courtesy of Ted Koehler, USFWS

Preserving Great Lakes Common Terns and the Ashland Tern Island


Common terns are not as common as their name applies. In fact, they are listed as Endangered by the State of Wisconsin. One of two sites where common terns nest in Wisconsin is located along the Lake Superior shoreline in the City of Ashland, and is called the Ashland Tern Island. The city owns the small man-made “island” and it is managed specifically for common tern nesting by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In fact, the Wisconsin DNR considers the location “the most important, oldest (active since 1974) and most stable common tern colony site on the Great Lakes”. After many years of pounding waves and ice damage the island had deteriorated the point where this critically important site was in danger of being lost. That brought together the Wisconsin DNR, City of Ashland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Coastal Program to restore the nesting island. Common terns are a focal species of the Service’s Region 3 Coastal Program - Great Lakes and the island itself is named in the Program’s Strategic Work Plan – 2017-2021.

After all the birds departed for the season, the work was completed in the fall of 2019 by Pearl Beach Construction Company from Chesterfield, Michigan. Moving heavy equipment and tons of steel and rock to a small island half a mile off shore on the “Big Lake” is no easy task. Luckily the weather cooperated and the work resulted in a resounding success. Approximately 2,000 square feet of the interior wooden walls of the island crib structure were replaced with steel sheets to ensure site longevity for at least 40-50 years. The important work completed by the group of diverse partners ensures the long-term stability of a site that is central to the recovery of the common tern.

grass pickerel in viewing tank 2

Grass pickerel caught during Alpena FWCO-AIS Progam electrofishing surveys. Credit: Janine Lajavic, USFWS

When Catching Zero is a Good Thing


Searching for newly introduced invasive or non-native species does not have the same rewards as working with native fish species where accomplishments can be measured by number of fish stocked or hectares of habitat restored. Instead, a good year for an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program is when we detect “nothing” new. That’s right, it is a program where finding nothing is a good thing!

Since 1996, the AIS program at the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO), including the Detroit River substation, has captured 92 different fish species, 12 of which were previously established non-native species, across four of the five Great Lakes (no sampling occurred in Lake Ontario). Yet after sampling over 2,200 sites from 1996-2018, using ten different gear types, the AIS program was able to add four new native fish species that had not been previously observed in the survey. New program species included the river redhorse, grass pickerel, lake sturgeon, and warmouth. The river redhorse, grass pickerel, and warmouth were captured while electrofishing in tributaries of Lake Erie and Lake Huron. The lake sturgeon was caught in an experimental gill net set in the St. Marys River, the river that  connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron. River redhorse(s) and lake sturgeon are listed as threatened species in Michigan due to loss of big river habitat, over harvesting, and pollution. All fish captured were returned to the water alive.

The ability to capture these new species was likely a result of several factors. First, overall fishing effort was increased in 2019. Second, the survey design was changed from a random exploratory survey to one that used past years information to guide gear deployment in fishing “hot spots”. Third, 12 new sampling locations were added to the survey. Both the grass pickerel and warmouth were detected in two of these new locations. It is anticipated that these new improvements to the AIS program will continue into the future and help with the early detection of non-native species, a key to protecting the Great Lakes ecosystem. Hopefully we will continue to catch “nothing”.

two biologists remove otolith 2

Biologists with La Crosse FWCO remove an otolith from an Asian carp to be used for age determination and microchemistry data. Credit: USFWS

Asian Carp in the Upper Mississippi River


Recently, a commercial fishing crew captured over 50 Asian carp within Pool 8 of the Upper Mississippi River (UMR) near Green Island just south of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Staff from the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) were contacted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to assist in collecting the demographic information of these fish. A total of 39 Silver Carp or Silver/Bighead hybrid and 12 Grass Carp were processed. Staff collected total length and weight as well as the sex and maturity of each of the fish. Otoliths were also removed from each fish to determine the age of the fish as well as determine microchemistry which will tell us where these fish came from. Staff also took blood from the Grass Carp to determine the ploidy of each fish, which was processed by Jen Bailey in the Fish Health Center. Ploidy is used to determine if the fish can reproduce. All 12 of the Grass Carp were diploid, which is the natural chromosomal state and means that the fish has two copies (just like humans) of each chromosome. These fish are capable of reproduction given proper environmental conditions. Triploidy is an induced state causing three sets of chromosomes to occur in each cell, rendering the fish sterile or incapable or reproduction. Triploid fish can be useful for management purposes, such as keeping aquatic vegetation in check in lakes where recreation and boating activities are desired (Grass Carp) or for control of parasite-carrying snails in aquaculture farms (Black Carp).This information will all be useful to managers as we try to understand what the influx of Asian carp in this area over the last couple of years means to the Upper Mississippi River.

planted saplings in forest of air force base

Planted saplings within an old growth forest on Scott Air Force Base, Missouri. Credit: Ben Bejcek

Habitat Management for Military Service Members


One of the many projects that the Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) undertakes is to help manage the natural resources on Scott Air Force Base (SAFB). SAFB is located near Saint Louis, Missouri and is home to many Air Force men and women. Carterville FWCO assists in managing two large acreage ponds and forested habitat. Projects involve endangered species management, fish management, and invasive species removal.

This past January, Collin Moratz and Ben Bejcek while at SAFB assessed the pond’s health, surveyed last year’s tree planting, and removed some invasive plant species. The two ponds are monitored so military personal and families can enjoy shore fishing. After checking on the ponds, a walk through the forest provided insight on the success of last year’s tree planting.

The reason for the tree planting was to help generate new growth in the forested areas. The new forest growth will help the endangered Indiana Bat by providing new habitat and limit desirable food for waterfowl. SAFB is an active air force base so military aircraft continually land and take off. Waterfowl are a concern for pilots, and by limiting the interactions, hazards decrease.

Even though the forest is on a secure air force base, invasive species have managed to grow in the area. Carterville FWCO staff have manually removed the invasive plant Honeysuckle to allow native species to grow. By checking on locations where the species was removed last year, future plans can be made on how to approach the new field season.

By managing the natural resources, Carterville FWCO staff provide an opportunity for military personal to enjoy the outdoors, limit the risk of wildlife interactions, and help native and endangered species. The SAFB project has been passed to Jeremy Anderson, a new member of the Carterville FWCO. Jeremy is a wonderful addition to the team and will continue to help manage SAFB’s natural resources for future military personal

Field Focus: Iron River National Fish Hatchery

shore stocking lake trout wearing PPE

Advancing the Mission During Challenging Times


It wasn’t business as usual this year for the Iron River National Fish Hatchery’s 2020 fish distribution season. As the consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic set in on the world as we know it, little has changed for the 1.4 million yearling lake trout that call Iron River National Fish Hatchery (NFH) home. As social distancing became the norm for us, fish in the raceways continued to grow and increasingly became denser and nearer to reaching the carrying capacity of their rearing environments. Difficult decisions had to be made in balancing the ability to keep the fish healthy and release them into the wild on time in the spring, while keeping hatchery staff and their families safe from the corona virus. The Iron River NFH had to abandon traditional stocking methods in lieu of more social distancing appropriate methods. This included foregoing loading fish onto the M/V Spencer Baird for stocking on offshore reefs. Instead, in collaboration with partners, suitable release sites were determined for non-overnight trips to stock the fish from shore. Hatchery staff also had CDC recommended PPE during the loading and unloading of fish which included facemasks and gloves. The crew also practiced social distancing during this process and placed signs on its distribution trucks to remind the public to stay back from working staff members. 

Above: Iron River NFH staff member wearing PPE during a fish release. Credit: USFWS

There's always more to our story...

shocker boat for asian carp edit

USFWS biologists sampling for Asian carp on the Illinois River. Credit Ryan Hagerty, USFWS

Ten Years for the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee 


Partnerships are born out of purpose, some from an urgent call for action. Over a decade ago, the growing threat to the Great Lakes region from Asian carp quickly intensified when Asian carp eDNA was detected near Lake Michigan in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). For years, Asian carp had been steadily increasing their range upstream in the Illinois River, spurred on by emigration from source populations established decades ago downstream in the Mississippi River basin.

In 2009, positive results for Asian carp eDNA were detected both above and below the Corps of Engineers' electric dispersal barrier system in the CAWS. Since 2002, the barrier system has served as a main line of defense to prevent the movement of non-native fish through the CAWS, the primary permanent hydrologic connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Informed by the eDNA results, a large-scale, multiagency response followed, resulting in the capture of an adult Bighead carp in the Lockport Pool of the CAWS, providing physical evidence of the presence of Asian carp.

The need for immediate action was apparent. Early in 2010, the White House Council of Environmental Quality called for the formation of a collaborative partnership to plan and carry out an aggressive strategy to address the threat - and the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC) was born.

Now in its tenth year, the ACRCC has evolved since its inception to become a bi-national partnership of 28 US and Canadian Federal, State, Provincial, Tribal and local agencies from throughout the Great Lakes watershed. Its mission remains simple but challenging - to prevent the introduction and establishment of Asian carp in the Great Lakes.  While the CAWS was the initial epicenter of the ACRCC's work in 2010 and remains a primary geographic focus today, the scope of the partnership has since expanded to include the critical work conducted by Canadian partners to monitor and manage Asian carp in Ontario and Quebec waters, and work to permanently close additional highest-risk potential hydrologic pathways (temporary inter-basin connections) into the Great Lakes in Indiana and Ohio. Further, partnership work has since built upon core efforts to prevent bighead and silver carp introduction to now address the emerging threats of black carp and grass carp to the watershed.

(To be continued…First part of a series on 10 years of ACRCC)

Fish Tales


Early Spring Preparations Underway


As the snow begins to melt and the trees begin to bud, nature shows signs of spring’s arrival. For field offices around the region that means the work load is shifting from bright computer monitors to sunshine and fresh air. Staff from the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) are preparing for the upcoming field season by readying materials for spring sampling.

Alpena FWCO conducts spring sampling for Asian carp environmental DNA (eDNA) and efforts are underway to label vials and prepare materials. During a single sampling event, hundreds of water samples are collected in 50 milliliter vials. Each of these vials is individually labeled with a unique sample number. To ensure vials are not contaminated during the handling process, staff wear nitrile gloves and conduct this activity within a sterile room. Once the vials have been labeled, they are placed into coolers that have been disinfected with a bleach solution to ensure a sterile environment until the sampling event. This is a time-intensive task that requires coordination to prevent mislabeling.

Another main focus for preparation is disinfection and restocking of our station’s eDNA trailer, which hosts centrifuges and supplies used for sample processing. The trailer and related equipment are disinfected using a bleach solution to ensure a sterile work environment. All samples collected in the field are brought back to the trailer for processing. Trailer supplies including gloves, bleach, and sample trays are replenished for upcoming sampling. Because eDNA is a sensitive surveillance tool, these precautions are essential to ensure a successful mission.  

Remembering Aldo Leopold


Earlier this year in March, the Brown County Central Library in downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin hosted Aldo Leopold Weekend to commemorate the great Wisconsin conservationist Aldo Leopold. Leopold is remembered for his influence in the development of modern environmental ethics and his book A Sand County Almanac. Many conservation partners attended the event including the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. Our outreach team put together a booth educating both children and adults on the effects of invasive species, especially Asian Carp. Our replicate Bighead and Silver Carp drew people in with their strange appearance and participants had many questions. Asian Carp are expanding their range in the Mississippi River Basin and are the biggest threat of invasion to the Great Lakes. Asian Carp can alter food webs by competing with native species for phytoplankton and zooplankton, which can be detrimental to larval fish. The event also featured a screening of Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for our Time.