Fish Lines June 2020 Edition

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

June 25, 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


Editor's Note: Due to an unexpected change in distribution of gov delivery bulletins to our internal audience: Starting in July 2020, internal subscribers will be receiving Fish Lines through another distribution method, which has yet to be determined.


Please be assured that our internal subscribers will continue to receive Fish Lines. Thanks so much for your patience and support.

Did You Know?

Megan Bradley shows an endangered higgins eye mussel

Megan Bradley at Endangered Higgins Eye release. Credit: USFWS

Genoa NFH Mussel Biologist Earns Region's 2020 Science Excellence Award


Megan Bradley of the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) recently received high honors for her achievements in furthering Aquatic Species Recovery through her work in freshwater mussel and fisheries science. She recently received the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Interior Region 3 2020 Award for Science Excellence. USFWS Interior Region 3 administers it's programs in the eight Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Megan’s contributions to the conservation of native freshwater mussels include working with partners to reintroduce a new population of Higgins Eye Pearlymussel according to the Higgins Eye Recovery Plan. Megan was instrumental in these efforts by constructing a preplacement habitat sampling program, and contributing to the writing of the Higgins Eye Reintroduction plan that paved the way for acceptance to place this new population of Endangered species in historic habitat in waters with low zebra mussel populations. This new population joined a newly transferred federally Endangered Winged Mapleleaf mussel population. Both species were propagated through efforts directed by a multi-agency mussel conservation team, and executed through the Genoa NFH mussel propagation program.

Megan is also considered an expert in determining economic value to mussel resources which is proving invaluable in determining damages in Natural Resource Damage Assessments (NRDA). Her leadership and input in the Freshwater Mussel Conservation Society’s role in the formulation and publishing of the American Fisheries Society publication “Investigation and Monetary Values of Fish and Freshwater Mollusk Kills was invaluable. This reference is considered the standard in repairing the aftermath of fish and mussel kills and is used in many NRDA settlements as a resource to determine damages.

Megan also developed methodology to determine ploidy in wild and cultured lake sturgeon using technology and equipment available on station. She is able to determine ploidy in wild populations, and pre-release sampling plans have been implemented to ensure cultured lake sturgeon will not negatively affect current restoration efforts ongoing across the country. Congratulations Megan! We are proud of you and your efforts.

USGS staff work the sea lamprey traps on the Oceoqoc R, MI

Agency Cooperators Assist in Sea Lamprey Control During Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic hit during a busy time of the year for the Sea Lamprey Control Program (SLCP). Adult sea lamprey begin their spawning run into tributaries of the Great Lakes in late March and early April. During this period, SLCP biologists and technicians are typically traveling throughout the Great Lakes Region setting sea lamprey traps and installing seasonal sea lamprey barriers. The COVID-19 pandemic slammed the brakes on these routine operations. In response, the SLCP met the challenge head-on with creative thinking, collaboration, and sheer determination. In doing so, they were able to overcome obstacles established by COVID-19 restrictions and successfully complete critical early fieldwork.

Seasonal sea lamprey barriers are important to the SLCP, because they block adult sea lampreys from reaching spawning grounds, yet are removable to allow for fish passage and connectivity during the rest of the year. While there are many of these types of structures throughout the Great Lakes, six require installation by SLCP staff. Due to travel restrictions, completing this task was impossible for field crews based out of Marquette, Michigan. Service staff looked to their extensive partner network for assistance and the partners delivered! Employees from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, and U.S. Geological Survey Hammond Bay Biological Station successfully installed sea lamprey barriers within their jurisdictions while adhering to local safety guidelines.

Additionally, SLCP staff responded to the City of Manistique regarding potential flooding upstream of the Manistique Paper Mill Dam on the Manistique River. Under normal circumstances, SLCP staff manipulate the dam floodgates to install a sea lamprey trap. However, this time, with Regional Office approval, the team adjusted the gates to prevent potential property damage due to rising water levels upstream of the dam. Once water levels receded, staff returned the gates to their normal operating position to allow for safe recreational activities downstream of the dam.  

Finally, the SLCP tracks adult sea lamprey populations within the Great Lakes by trapping them at long-term assessment sites. As with the seasonal barrier installation, COVID-19 restrictions prevented staff from completing this task. Instead, staff shipped traps and supplies to private and tribal contractors to fish these sites. Additionally, a two-person crew from the USGS Hammond Bay Biological Station operated traps on the Cheboygan and Ocqueoc Rivers where they experienced record setting catches of adult sea lampreys. These efforts provided important sea lamprey data for 80% of the long-term assessment sites.

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly made mission critical work related to blocking and trapping adult sea lampreys nearly impossible to complete this year, dampening the spirits of SLCP staff tasked with completing this work. Yet, through great support from our partners, creative and strategic thinking, as well as determination the early SLCP season was not a complete loss. Thank you to all the private contractors and staff of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, Seneca Nation of Indians, and USGS Hammond Bay Biological Station who volunteered to help salvage our early field season!

Above: Trisha Searcy and Tyler Bruning (USGS staff) counting a record catch of 2,843 sea lampreys at the Ocqueoc River long-term assessment site, Presque Isle County, MI. Credit: Tyler Bruning, USGS Hammond Bay Biological Station

otoliths or ear bones from chinook salmon used in age determination

Otoliths extracted from a Chinook salmon. Technicians use thin sections of otoliths to determine fish age by counting growth rings formed annually. Credit: Shannon Cressman, USFWS

Great Lakes Fish Tagging and Recovery Lab Update


Every year, Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office - Great Lakes Fish Tagging and Recovery Lab marks over nine million hatchery-raised trout and salmon with an adipose fin clip and coded-wire-tag (CWT). The 1 mm long CWT is injected into the snout of the young fish while in the hatchery. It is laser etched with a unique six-digit code which identifies its stocking release location, strain, and year class. These fish are then stocked at locations within lakes Michigan and Huron. Tags are recovered when Great Lakes anglers voluntarily work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) technicians to collect the snouts from tagged fish in their catch. Fish with a potential CWT can be identified visually by looking for an adipose fin clip (which means they are likely hatchery reared fish). USFWS technicians collect biological data from both the tagged fish and naturally reproduced fish in an angler’s catch. Most snouts and biological specimens collected during the summer are processed over the winter at the lab.

From November 2019 to April 2020, technicians extracted coded-wire-tags from the snouts of 8,868 Chinook salmon, Lake Trout, and steelhead. After extraction, each CWT’s code was read under a microscope, recorded and entered into a database. Technicians collect scales or otoliths (ear bones) from naturally reproduced salmon and trout for aging. Fish aging is critical as it allows us to determine growth and the relative survival of each year class of fish. This season, technicians have aged scales from 1,101 Chinook salmon and 464 Rainbow Trout. Five hundred and nineteen Lake Trout otoliths were mounted, sectioned, and aged. The data from all these activities allowed biologists to estimate ages for a combined 10,952 individual fish from lakes Michigan and Huron. When combined with data on size, stocking and landing location, stomach contents, and isotope analysis these ages will help describe the health of each year class of fish, and its role in the food web. In the end, these data will inform those who manage the salmon and trout fisheries on the Great Lakes. This is a time consuming process, but ultimately the knowledge gained makes the time spent well worth it.

young woman holding a trophy smallmouth bass caught duriing Genoa NFH virtual fishing week

Genoa NFH Virtual Fishing Week a Success


The hatchery’s first attempt at a virtual fishing week was a successful endeavor, thanks to the help from our partners at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and the Allamakee County Conservation Board. More than 50,000 people were reached through content posted on Facebook, more than 100 people visited the website, and more than 3,500 people engaged with the posts. If you missed out on our virtual fishing week, you can still participate by visiting our website or by looking back through our Facebook posts from May 16-May 24.

Credit: Image Courtesy of Tim Smigielski, USFWS

cavefish collected during survey work performed by Columbia FWCO

Sampling Ozark Streams


In 2019, the Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO), Columbia, Missouri and Mark Twain National Forest Eleven Point Ranger district partnered to sample two Ozark streams. Ozarks streams are full of unexplored and undocumented caves which gives this region a natural mystique and these sampling areas did not disappoint.

One sampling area, Gooseneck Crossing, was sampled for the purpose of identifying any Species of Conservation Concern before the demolition of a damaged low water slab crossing. The crossing had washed so badly, citizens are required to reroute their regular commute. The stream was sampled with seines and backpack electrofishers where 530 fish were collected and identified to 12 species. One unique fish encountered while exploring this area was the Southern Cavefish, a species found exclusively in caves. The Southern Cavefish was not collected as part of our sampling effort, yet was an exciting find moving down the stream as it was likely washed out of a cave through recent high water events.

Our second area sampled was a location known as Cowards Hollow. Cowards Hollow is named for three civil war soldiers who left their positions during the war and hid in the hollow. Legend has it that they were found and are buried somewhere in the hollow. No historic graves were discovered on this expedition, but we did find 286 fish comprised of 14 different species.

The continued partnership with the Mark Twain National Forest provides opportunities to enhance and conserve fish and their habitats for the benefit of the American people. The work completed through this partnership in 2019 allows for a comprehensive view of the natural resources in this area which contribute to effective fish and wildlife management while facilitating additional exciting work for the Columbia FWCO team. 

Above: Unique Find: A Southern Cavefish collected while sampling an Ozark Stream. Credit: USFWS

Field Focus: Ludington Biological Station

New Ludington Biologal Station Buildings and Facility

Working Through the Pandemic to Carry Out the Agency Mission


Three years ago, the Ludington Biological Station relocated 30 miles north to Manistee, Michigan due to chemical contamination of our former facility in Ludington, which supported our operations for 55 years. Despite the hardship, our staff faithfully and effectively carried out the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As part of the Sea Lamprey Control Program, we work closely with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission who funds and administers this binational program to suppress invasive sea lamprey populations in the Great Lakes. Three years is a long time to be displaced and we anxiously awaited moving back to permanent quarters. Finally, in late 2018 the Great Lakes Fishery Commission announced it was funding the construction of a new station in Ludington. Great news! Moving forward to spring 2020, the new station was completed and we were moving in when…COVID-19 struck! Devastating news.

Sending everyone home after our long, challenging experience was difficult. However, we had no choice as a pandemic was upon us and the safety of our staff was critical. We immediately transitioned to an extensive teleworking operation working from home in makeshift offices keeping in daily contact with coworkers and partners across the region. Unfortunately, COVID-19 occurred just before our field season began. We paused our basin-wide sea lamprey control field operations and regrouped, planned, and awaited the easing of shelter in place orders. Our country is entering an unknown chapter of recovery, both emotionally and economically. The tragic loss of many American lives casts a long shadow over us. Soon we will return to our station and slowly transition to field work. We are shaken but our strong sense of duty and obligation to our agency mission remains. The invasive sea lamprey awaits us. It is a formidable foe, much like COVID-19.

Above: The NEW Ludington Biological Station. Credit: Image Courtesy of Rand Construction

white tubes in a round hatchery tank are dragon fly rearing cages

Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly larvae are reared in PVC pipe cages submerged in tanks. Credit: Angela Baran Dagendesh, USFWS.

Hine's Emerald Dragonfly Innovations...Learning Continues


Genoa National Fish Hatchery began working with the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly in 2015 after receiving a grant to help get the program underway. Each year brings new challenges and learning opportunities for working with this species! Last fall, the hatchery received 800 eggs to hold over the winter for spring hatch and summer grow-out. The learning curve has been quite steep for the eggs and newly hatched larvae, with hatching beginning in February this year, about three months early! The hatchery adapted quickly, setting up small cups with a little sand and supplementing with pond water out of the mussel building, warmed up to room temperature. Once it warmed up and pond water temperatures increased, the newly hatched larvae were placed loose in rearing tanks, to give them more space and hopefully avoid cannibalism. We are now transitioning to smaller cages to place in the tanks to further reduce cannibalism and also to protect the larvae from any other invertebrates that might come in with the pond water. Now that the temperatures have warmed up, zooplankton production in the ponds has taken off, providing an all you can eat buffet for the larvae! Once the larvae get a little larger, they will transition to the larger mesh cages and be placed out in the hatchery ponds. The larger mesh will still protect the larvae, but allow larger sized food to crawl in for the dragonfly larvae. Stay tuned this summer for updates and pictures of the growing dragonflies!

auto tagging trailers at National Fish Hatchery

Tagging operation at Spring Creek NFH near White Salmon, Washington. The automated tagging and marking systems are housed in the two white trailers located on the other side of the hatchery raceways. Credit: James Webster, USFWS

Cooperation between Regional Fisheries Programs Provides Mutual Benefits


The Great Lakes Fish Tagging and Recovery Lab at the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, (FWCO) tags and/or clips the adipose fin of trout and salmon stocked into the Great Lakes by the states and the Service. The tagging and marking equipment used by the program was developed in Washington State for use with the high volume mass marking programs for salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

One such program operates out of the Columbia River FWCO in Vancouver, Washington. Because mass marking of hatchery fish has been well established for decades in the Pacific Northwest, personnel from Columbia River office were originally consulted to advise on the development of the Great Lakes program during the late 2000’s. This relationship has continued as a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and concepts between the two programs.

The operation of the tagging and marking equipment requires unique training and experience and very few seasoned trailer operators exist. So when staffing shortages occurred with both programs, an agreement to share trailer operators was a natural solution. For the last three years, staff from the Great Lakes program have traveled to Washington during March to assist the Columbia River program with a Chinook salmon project at Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery. Likewise, over the last three years, staff from the Columbia River FWCO traveled east in September, to assist the Great Lakes program with lake trout projects at National Fish Hatcheries in Michigan and Pennsylvania. The opportunity to swap tours between the programs is beneficial to reduce experienced operator shortages, and allows the exchange of information and experience that benefits the staff and contributes to the success of both programs.

There's always more to the story...

Fish biologist holding Asian carp for close-up

USFWS fish biologist shows an Asian carp close-up. Credit: Ryan Hagerty, USFWS

Ten Years of Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee


(Continued from Fish Lines May 2020 Edition)…A foundation of the collaboration has been its comprehensive approach to addressing the threat, utilizing detection, prevention and control actions supported through the annual Asian Carp Action Plan. The Action Plan - updated each year to reflect new information and lessons-learned - supports the mission of the ACRCC, as well as the goals and recommendations first outlined in the National Asian Carp Management Plan of 2007. Key support is provided through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and from participating partner agency  resources. 

Each ACRCC agency brings their unique expertise, capacity and resources to the table, addressing Asian carp challenges within their respective waters, while also working cooperatively across jurisdictional boundaries to support a coordinated, watershed-wide approach. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an original partner since 2010, has served as co-chair of the ACRCC since 2014, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. USFWS provides additional leadership as co-chair of the partnership's Communication Work Group, along with Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Key leadership, capacity and technical expertise for implementation of priority detection, prevention and control projects under the Action Plan is provided by USFWS Interior Region 3 - Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices and the Midwest Fishery Center. The ACRCC's Monitoring and Response Work Group, tasked with developing and implementing an annual tactical monitoring and response plan (including contingency response, or "rapid response") for the Illinois Waterway and Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), is co-chaired by Illinois DNR and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Across the board, every partner plays a key role.

Since 2010, the ACRCC's Action Plan has supported the critical monitoring and early detection needed to stay vigilant and informed of the risk. Efforts have targeted priority locations closer to Lake Michigan, including the Upper Illinois Waterway and CAWS, using traditional fishery surveys, remote sensing (e.g. hydroacoustics and telemetry), and eDNA monitoring. This monitoring has been crucial for early detection of Asian carp in new locations upstream of the  barrier system, triggering contingency response as recently as 2017.

The Action Plan also includes support for key prevention actions, including operation of the barrier system, as well the development and testing of potential new technologies designed to shut the door on the continued emigration and spread of Asian carp. Efforts in 2020 included evaluating the use of carbon dioxide and underwater projected sound as deterrents and barriers at strategic choke points in river systems, including lock chambers. The Action Plan is supporting two first-ever, large-scale field trials of sound deterrent technology, on the Cumberland River (Barkley Dam) and Mississippi River (Lock and Dam 19). The ACRCC is committed to leveraging new developments and science from prevention and control technology projects under the Action Plan for use among other Asian carp partnerships, wherever possible across the nation.

In addition, opportunities for active control are being refined and expanded. Since the first years of the partnership, the ACRCC has taken an increasingly proactive and aggressive approach to mitigating the threat, now taking the fight to the fish.  Intensive, ongoing fishing effort, focused on reducing numbers of Asian carp from established source populations or along upstream leading edges through harvest, has been expanded, leveraging the capacity and expertise of licensed commercial fishers. This work is focused and informed by rigorous agency stock assessments, population modelling, and up-to-date life-history and demographics data. In 2019, a record number of adult Asian carp were removed from the Peoria Pool in the Illinois River, the location closest to Lake Michigan where all life stages of Asian carp (adults, juveniles, larvae, and eggs) are continually present.

Today, the Asian carp population front remains just under 50 miles from Lake Michigan, unchanged over the past ten years. While a positive sign, millions of highly-mobile Asian carp remain well established in self-sustaining  populations downstream within the lower Illinois River and Mississippi River mainstem, underscoring the need to continue aggressive and coordinated management supported through the Action Plan.  Further, the interconnection of large river systems in the Midwest United States, coupled with the proven ability of Asian carp populations to rapidly expand and disperse, demonstrates the strong need for collaboration across basin wide partnerships, including the ACRCC, working toward a truly national approach.

On its 10th anniversary, in 2020 and looking forward, the ACRCC partnership remains committed and fully engaged in the Asian carp battle, focusing its actions on holding the line while pushing back on the threat, with the clear and present mission of protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp.

Fish Tales

Environmental Education Specialist Moves On and Up


Raena Parsons, Environmental Education Specialist at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) is leaving the great state of Wisconsin to the somewhat drier and more open pastures of Wyoming. Raena recently received a promotion to supervise the Environmental Education and Outreach Programs at the Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge. The Elk Refuge is internationally known and highly visited for many reasons, one of which is its wild Elk herd. Raena will be directing a staff of three, with a Refuge that hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. The staff at Genoa NFH and our many Friends, volunteers and conservation partners will certainly miss her however. Some of the noteworthy achievements accomplished by her at Genoa NFH include a virtual tour of the hatchery on the hatchery Facebook and web pages, and a dedicated pollinator display in the visitor center. Raena also received the Region 3 Rachael Carson Sense of Wonder Award for Excellence in Environmental Education in 2019. She has also grown our volunteer programs by leaps and bounds in her short two years with us, by coordinating staffing for the bookstore and resource conservation activities. We will miss her productivity and enthusiasm, but know that she will be a benefit to the Service Refuge program now in her new position. Congratulations and fare well Raena!

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