Fish Lines July/August 2020 Edition

View as a webpage / Share

u s fish and wildlife service

July/August 2020 Edition

fish lines

Fish Lines is a monthly publication that highlights the recent news and work conducted by USFWS Interior Region 3-Great Lakes Fisheries personnel and their partners and friends. For questions or for more information contact the editor, email


Note: Some of the work and events that appear in this edition were completed prior to the pandemic.

Did You Know?

auto tagging trailer

Tagging trailer set up for tagging and marking operations adjacent to a hatchery raceway. Left inset shows a fish traveling through the distribution piping inside the trailer. Right inset is an interior trailer showing with six processing lines and the manual tagging and marking station at the rear of the trailer. Photos courtesy of James Webster, USFWS

“State of the Art” Sometimes Needs Upgrades


The Great Lakes Fish Tagging and Recovery Lab at the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, uses state of the art mobile automated tagging and marking systems to apply coded wire tags and/or adipose fin clips to trout and salmon stocked into the Great Lakes. The Program operates four of these tagging and marking systems, housed in 44 foot fifth wheel trailers, at Federal and State hatcheries throughout the region.

The automated system uses a Windows-based computer controlled system to operate the equipment to safely and accurately clip the adipose fin and simultaneously inject a coded wire tag in to the snout of the fish at a rate of up to 9,000 fish/hour. As with all technology, “state of the art” is a moving target, which makes required upgrades inevitable. During the last six months, our program has upgraded the control system in two of the automated trailers. The upgraded control systems use the latest computer technology to replace prior generation equipment that was rapidly becoming obsolete. In addition, the new control systems incorporate an improved wireless interface that uses hand-held tablets for interacting with and adjusting the machines, instead of corded devices and stationary touch screens.

The recovery information from tagged fish allows managers and biologists to assess the performance, movements, and contribution to fisheries of stocked fish as well estimate the numbers of wild fish in the population. Coded wire tags are not always used, in certain situations the fish are only adipose fin clipped still providing the identification of stocked fish for natural reproduction estimates.

When the machine is configured for fin clipping only, the rejects that are processed manually must be counted separately by the technicians in order to be included in the total. To eliminate the need for manually counting hand clipped fish and consequently improve the accuracy of the counts, the Program has upgraded two of their four trailers to include electronic fish counters at the hand processing station. These counters incorporate sensors that register the fish as they are clipped and output total numbers of fish processed to be included with the machine total for the hatchery group.

These equipment upgrades represent the continual need for maintaining and improving the specialized fish tagging and marking equipment utilized by the Great Lakes program that provides managers and biologists with valuable information to assist with the management of Great Lakes fisheries.

a new research vessel 21 foot boat

A New Hydroacoustics Vessel for the Upper Mississippi River


Fieldwork completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this year looked slightly different than in past years. However, by completing comprehensive risk assessments and adhering to safety protocols, certain projects are still able to move forward safely. While some field operations may become slightly more difficult, and the logistics more complex (travel in separate vehicles, use of PPE, social distancing etc.), these are small inconveniences to bear in order to still be able fulfill our conservation mission.

Recently, the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) was able take their new hydroacoustics boat for its maiden voyage. The 21 foot research vessel was designed for conducting population assessments of Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi River. The vessel has an enclosed cab to protect the data collection equipment and crew from the elements, a davit crane for deploying gear, and a tunnel hull design allowing the vessel to access shallow areas.  

The boat performed well on its first voyage, and the motor break-in process was successfully initiated. As part of our safety protocol, only the boat operator was allowed in the cab of the boat, while the other crew member stayed socially distanced on the front deck. The crew also had the opportunity to deploy and calibrate the hydroacoustics equipment, and collect some data in Pool 8 of the Mississippi River. This spring saw increased captures and sightings of Asian carp in the Wisconsin-Minnesota boundary waters of the Mississippi River, and spurred the deployment of contracted commercial fishermen by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to find and remove Asian carp. Hydroacoustic surveys will be another tool in the toolbox to help locate Asian carp, and direct the harvest efforts of our partners to their location. The La Crosse FWCO will be back on the waters of the Upper Mississippi River soon, socially distanced while they look for invasive carp. Above: The new hydroacoustics R/V “Enterprise” is based out of the La Crosse FWCO, and will aid in Asian carp population assessment in the Upper Mississippi River. Credit: Katie Lieder, USFWS.

edited biologists pond sampling

SIU students collecting Asian carp from a drained pond on campus. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Hllary Dean, USFWS

Southern Illinois University and Carterville FWCO Study Silver Carp


With the risk Asian carps pose to the Mississippi River Basin, Southern Illinois University (SIU) continues to lead research efforts to further our understanding of these species to inform management actions. The Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) has been working with SIU to collect carp for a study at their on-campus pond facility. SIU conducted two different studies utilizing fish that were captured by the Carterville FWCO crew via electrofishing on the Big Muddy River and Horseshoe Lake in southern Illinois. The goal of these studies were to evaluate the effects of acoustic tagging and external tagging on health and tag retention in Silver Carp. Fish were transported from the Big Muddy and Horseshoe Lake via aerated fish hauler. Once fish were collected and successfully transported to the on-campus ponds, they were divided into two separate study groups. Group one was selected to evaluate the current acoustic tagging procedures used in Asian carp. Treatments for study group one were: no jaw or telemetry tag, jaw tag, surgery with dummy acoustic tag and a group with a jaw tag and surgery with dummy acoustic tag. Fish also received PIT tags to quantify individual growth in the event that external tags were lost. Study group two compared the effects of two external marks, jaw tags and loop tags, currently used on bigheaded carps. Both groups were monitored for healing, mortality, general tag retention, growth and fish condition. Group two was also monitored for the retention of jaw tags. Groups were monitored at one, two and five months post-stocking. Both of these studies have been completed and the manuscripts are under review. Additional research using Asian carp will resume on the SIU campus once operations are allowed to return to normal with graduate students continuing to pursue more knowledge about these invasive species.

Field Station Focus | Columbia FWCO

endandered Niangua darter underwater

Adult Niangua darter. Image courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation.

Rare fish brings safe bridges to rural Missouri residents


We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service work to conserve some of the rarest plants and animals in the country. The conservation effort to restore the Niangua darter, an endangered fish found only in central Missouri, has brought safer bridges to rural communities. The story of the Niangua darter demonstrates how the work of the Service’s National Fish Passage Program directly benefits the American public we serve.

The Niangua River winds northward through central Missouri, due south of the Lake of the Ozarks. Swimming along the bottom of the river lives a small fish, aptly named the Niangua darter.  Native to the north- flowing tributaries to the Osage River and found nowhere else in the world, the fish is listed as a federally threatened species and as state endangered by Missouri. Read More

There's Always More to our Story

GIS specilaist at work amongsts her computers

Building Connections in a Rapidly Evolving Event: The USFWS COVID-19 Incident Management Team


I was fortunate to be offered a detail opportunity in May serving on the COVID-19 Incident Management Team (IMT) 5 as a Geographic Information System Specialist (GISS) for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The assignment challenged me as it involved quick thinking to provide and deliver GIS tools, data summaries, and critical data management in a rapidly evolving situation. These efforts supported information sharing within the agency and the Department of the Interior on COVID-19. Operating under the Planning section of the IMT, in a team of two other GISS’s and a Situation Unit Lead, most day to day tasks involved managing the ArcGIS Survey123 COVID-19 reporting data, handling communications on Survey123 questions, managing Station operating status data, managing the USFWS COVID-19 Common Operating Picture Story Map, and generating data summaries to share with the IMT 5 team. Throughout the two weeks, a great sense of comradery formed between myself and my team members while we worked together to accomplish tasks and achieve the goals and objectives of the IMT. A lot of tasks required us to work together as a cohesive unit to ensure all workflows were complete. This experience overall served as a reminder that the Service contains a lot of hard working and talented individuals who are ready to assist in any way they can to support the health and safety of all employees. Above: GIS specialist working while on detail to IMT. Photo courtesy of Jeena Koenig, Midwest Fisheries Center

mussels mark and ready for stocking

Mussel Restoration Continues at Guttenberg, Iowa


Hatchery biologists spent several weeks preparing juvenile mussels of several species for release into the Mississippi River near Guttenberg, Iowa. This stocking event is part of a multi-year effort to restore the mussel population in an area of the river that suffered severe impacts from a train derailment. Black Sandshell, Yellow Sandshell, Plain Pocketbook, Washboard, and Higgins Eye mussels were propagated at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH), and reared, in the Mobile Aquatic Rearing System ‘mussel trailer’. Additional mussels were raised in submerged containers in the Dubuque Ice Harbor (in collaboration with the National Mississippi River Museum) for the last two to three years.

With high water for much of last fall, we and our Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) partners were not able to stock juvenile mussels at the site during 2019. This summer, with good river conditions the juvenile mussels were ready for the river after spending an additional winter and spring in the mussel building at Genoa NFH (the mussel biologists were also ready for the several thousand, rapidly growing juvenile mussels to go to the river!).

Prior to release, juvenile mussels are marked or tagged so future monitoring efforts can determine if a mussel was propagated or has resulted from natural reproduction or is an animal that has moved into the target area from surrounding areas. A colored super glue dot is added to one or both valves of the shell for most species, or in the case of Federally Endangered Higgins Eye mussels, a tag with a unique number is glued to the shell. When all of the mussels were counted and tagged, they were loaded up into big transport coolers, taken to Guttenberg, transferred to biologists from the Iowa DNR, and released into the Mississippi River. Hopefully the little mussels will settle in and help establish a healthy, stable mussel bed for years to come. Above: Plain Pocketbook juveniles laid out for glue dot tagging prior to release in the Mississippi River near Guttenberg, Iowa. Credit: USFWS

microscope image of an inavasive aquatic invertebrate in great lakes

Killer Shrimp under magnification. One of the top benthic invertebrate threats in Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Photo courtesy on Anton Gereau II, USFWS. Credit: S. Giesen, NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

Alpena FWCO Implements New Benthic Macroinvertebrate Standard Operating Procedure


Many invasive species threaten the Great Lakes ecosystem. Some are animals such as Round and Tubenose gobies, Eurasian ruffe, the Asian carp species, and many others. Some threats come in the form of the plants Eurasian watermilfoil, the Common reed, and again many others. Not often discussed is the threat posed by benthic macroinvertebrates. Benthic macroinvertebrates are bottom dwelling animals, having no backbone, and are large enough to see with the naked eye. Examples include freshwater shrimp and scuds, snails, mussels, arthropods (insects), and worms. While visible to the naked eye, the organisms captured are still quite small. Inspection by microscope is necessary to correctly identify them. Factors such as adequate number of sampling locations, methods utilized to capture, and size of organisms necessitate unique resource requirements.

Throughout the Great Lakes, four Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices (FWCOs) administer early detection and monitoring (EDM) programs for early detection of invasive benthos. Regional priorities are focused on fish stocks and their issues. They are also concerned about invasive invertebrates. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified five target invertebrate species, unique to each Great Lake, that could do the most damage to the lakes' ecosystem. The individual FWCOs servicing those Great Lakes focus their search on those five target species. The Alpena FWCO conducts invertebrate EDM on lakes Huron and Erie, and is screening for ten species. Lake Huron’s target species include the Killer shrimp, Demon shrimp, Red swamp crayfish, Chinese mitten crab, and the Marbled crayfish. Lake Erie’s targets include the Killer shrimp, Demon shrimp, Golden mussel, Channeled apple snail, and the Marbled crayfish. To enhance screening efficiencies, the Alpena FWCO has developed a new methodology.

The benthos standard operating procedure (SOP) was recently revised and implemented. It's goals are not only to standardize and document benthos EDM procedures but to also reduce processing time and resources dedicated to the effort. At  Alpena FWCO, benthos samples captured during summer months are processed for the bulk of the winter months, and often encroach on the following spring field season. The new SOP and target species guidance allow the samples to be completed in the available two-three months. The first main resource saved is manpower, staff are able to complete a wider diversity of tasks both pre- and post- field season, such net inspection and mending, and gear inventory. The use of ethanol, a major processing preservative, has also been reduced. We reduced the amount of ethanol ordered and the amount we recycle by reusing, when feasible, and using fresh ethanol only during the final stages of preservation. Processing procedures were amended to clean the samples, including the use of alternate materials with increased size of sieve spacing. A wide variety of organisms are collected and examined giving a complete picture of the benthic environment of Lakes Huron and Erie.

No new benthos invasive species have been identified in our area of responsibility. Range expansion of known invasives have been monitored. Little is known as to the scope of impact an invading macroinvertebrate would have. The various FWCO staffs dedicated to benthos monitoring continue refining the methods used and looking for that needle-in-the-haystack.

Image of a settling pond renovation at Iron River NFH

USFWS Maintenance Action Team Partners with Iron River NFH for Settling Pond Project


The Iron River National Fish Hatchery (NFH) has been in operation for over 30 years, producing over a million fish per year. The hatchery has two settling ponds nearly a quarter acre in size. Each has a part in our pollution abatement program. After 30 years of intensive fish production, erosion, and muskrat burrowing, the ponds were in need of bank rehabilitation and dredging. A Maintenance Action Team was formed with two regional heavy equipment operators along with Iron River NFH’s maintenance mechanic to complete the project. The Team was able to utilize an excavator, two skid steer loaders, and two dump trucks to reshape the bank, remove approximately 950 cubic yards of sludge, and install 980 cubic yards of  granite riprap (to stabilize the bank) on top of a landscape fabric (to prevent weed growth) and hardware cloth (to prevent muskrat burrowing). The sludge was then spread on hatchery grounds in a manner approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Each pond took approximately a week to complete. This project should ensure the settling ponds will be functional for at least 30 more years of intensive fish production at Iron River NFH. Above: Settling pond post renovation at Iron River NFH. Credit: USFWS

Fish Tales

Preliminary Research Evaluating Feed Acceptance of Lake Sturgeon to Commercial Diets


Lake sturgeon, a priority species of concern for fish and aquatic conservation, listed by many states as threatened, endangered and of special concern, has recently been petitioned to be federally listed under the Endangered Species Act. Due to its depleted status, many agencies throughout the United States have developed restoration plans consisting of restoring wild populations of Lake sturgeon. The goal of intensive culture of Lake sturgeon is to maximize genetic contribution and post-stocking survival to effectively restore populations through reproduction and recruitment. To increase juvenile recruitment and survival, the National Fish Hatchery System goal is to release fingerlings of an optimal size and fitness that can maximize post-stocking survival and avoid predation. To do this, managers strive to maximize growth and fitness of reared fish at the same time as controlling feed and operation costs. Traditional feeds consisting of brine shrimp, bloodworms, and krill have been widely adopted nationally because Lake sturgeon readily accept them, resulting in low feed conversions and survival of fish to stocking. However, these feeds are four times the cost of commercial dry diets and are relatively poor in nutritional quality, decreasing in availability, and may contain contaminants, which is an emerging concern for fisheries managers. Hence, Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) is conducting preliminary research to determine feed acceptance of Lake sturgeon to commercial feeds. Results from this study will be used for future research, evaluating genetic selectivity, growth and survival of Lake sturgeon fed commercial diets. Results from this preliminary study will be completed the end of July of 2020.

Great Lakes Steelhead Tagging and Marking Program Continues


The Great Lakes Fish Tagging and Recovery Lab at the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, tags and/or fin clips trout and salmon that are stocked by the Service and the states into the Great Lakes. The Program started operations in 2010, since that time they have coded wire tagged and fin clipped 51 million lake trout reared at federal hatcheries for stocking in Lakes Michigan and Huron. In 2017, a five year program to coded wire tag all steelhead stocked into lakes Michigan and Huron was begun to provide biologists and managers with information about this important component of the valuable sport fishery.

The steelhead are raised at eight state hatcheries in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana and are comprised of six different genetic strains. During the first three seasons of the steelhead tagging program, the Program tagged and clipped 6.7 million steelhead and marked another 1.7 million with an adipose clip only. Initial steelhead tag recoveries from the sport fishery began in 2019 with many more recoveries expected during subsequent years. These tag recoveries will provide valuable information about the performance, movements, and contribution to fisheries of stocked steelhead as well as facilitate the calculation of natural reproduction rates in the lakes.



Subscribe to Fish Lines Here