Fish Lines Sep/Oct 2020 Edition

View as a webpage / Share

u s fish and wildlife service

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

October 8, 2020

fish lines

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


Note: Some work, events or images highlighted in this edition may have been completed prior to the pandemic.

Did You Know?


The 2020 Save Our Sturgeon Project a Success


The Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) participated in the Save our Sturgeon (SOS) efforts on the Big Manistee River in Michigan. This is a partnership effort that works to capture and remove young-of-year lake sturgeon on a river system, which is being targeted for chemical lampricide treatment to reduce the parasitic sea lamprey. Because it is known that young sturgeon are sensitive to the treatment, our biologists work with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (LRBOI) and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to locate and remove young-of-year lake sturgeon, protecting them from the lampricide. The work is conducted at night with spotlights, as that is when the young sturgeon are most active. The fish are scooped up from the river using metal dip nets. The young sturgeon are then transported to a near-by streamside rearing facility operated by LRBOI staff, where they are fed and cared for over several days until the chemical treatment is completed. The fish are then returned to the Big Manistee River where they are safe again. Almost 200 young lake sturgeon were caught during this nearly two week long effort. This marks one of the most successful SOS efforts to date and indicates a potentially strong year class of lake sturgeon in the Big Manistee!

Above: Juvenile Lake Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS

biologists holding asian carp captured at night

Asian Carp Capture Techniques Continue to Evolve


The Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) continues to expand the bounds of scientific understanding for effective capture techniques for Asian carp. In a recent study published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, the Columbia FWCO team and partners sought to determine what factors contributed to the highest catch of Silver Carp in two Kentucky reservoirs and two Illinois River back waters. Evaluating the paupier net catch, the team examined influences such as, time of day, season, habitat and depth. Sampling was conducted over three seasons (spring, summer, and fall) and commenced two hours prior to sunset and continued deep into the night. The team hoped this would be useful to managers struggling to collect sufficient data for informed prevention and control decisions. Analysis revealed that Silver Carp catch rate was higher at night, in shoreline habitat, and in water generally no deeper than five meters. Seasonal variation occurred, but generally the catch rate was high in the fall for all locations. These results suggest the paupier be considered as a reliable standard method to sample Silver Carp in large lentic (lake) habitats by using the guideline provided herein (i.e., sampling of the shoreline habitat, beyond one hour after sunset during the fall season).

Above: Columbia FWCO and partner biologists enjoying results of nighttime sampling. Credit: Columbia FWCO, USFWS 

crayfish being swabbed for health exam

New Residents at Genoa National Fish Hatchery


This summer, the hatchery received a dozen Devil Crayfish from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, to see how they would grow and survive, using the same rearing techniques as the Hine’s emerald dragonfly. The Forest Preserve had collected the eggs in 2019, with the excellent survival last year and over the winter, they planned for the crayfish to go to local schools as part of an outreach program. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and schools being closed, the programs were unable to start up in 2020 and the crayfish were outgrowing their homes, starting to fight one another, causing damage, missing claws, etc.

The transfer to Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) allowed the Forest Preserve to reduce their numbers and allowed the hatchery to try rearing a new species. Upon arrival, the crayfish were individually swabbed, and those samples were sent to the La Crosse Fish Health Center for disease testing. They are being housed in the dragonfly trailer, in cages to allow pond water to flow through to provide zooplankton for food and then the effluent water is discharged off station, to prevent any possible outside contamination while the disease testing is pending.

To date, they have survived the first couple molts, indicating they are eating well and the water quality is good for the crayfish.These crayfish are an important part of the habitat for the Hine’s emerald dragonfly, their extensive burrows with chimneys provide a home to the larval stage of the dragonfly during times of drought and over the winter. Future work with this species will include studies of how they move, what materials they will use for burrows and to see if they will stay in locations where they are stocked, creating habitat for the dragonflies.

Above: Crayfish being swabbed for disease testing. Credit: Angela Baran Dagendesh, USFWS

a lake with intermittent floating algae after a chemical treatment

Treating an Algae Emergency on Scott AFB 


The Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) was approved this summer to do some work at the Scott Air Force Base (AFB), managing the aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The primary concerns are maintaining recreational fishing areas and endangered bat habitat.  Scott AFB has two ponds, Scott Lake and Cardinal Lake, which are popular among base residents and campers for recreational activities such as fishing and kayaking. Scott Lake is the larger of the two ponds. It’s relatively shallow, has a pair island, and shallow bays that have cypress trees. It also has an inflow that comes from the neighboring agriculture field bordering the base boundary so excess nutrients from runoff contributes to algal blooms on Scott Lake. Cardinal Lake is the smaller of the two ponds, but is deeper and more bowl shape in bathymetry. There is no inlet or outlet for Cardinal Lake so runoff is less prevalent, leading to less algal blooms.

It is important that the Carterville FWCO treats the ponds algal blooms for esthetic value to base residents, and also because algal blooms can contribute to fish kills if left untreated under warm weather conditions. Fish kills have occurred in the past on the lakes as a result of untreated algal blooms and in one case from construction runoff. Scott Lake was at about 70 percent coverage when the Carterville FWCO sent limited staff members to the base for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak. Staff members treated both ponds with aquatic pesticides using a boat and back sprayers, while following COVID-19 safety protocols implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On the follow up trip the next week, Cardinal Lake had cleared up completely, but Scott Lake needed to be treated again, though the algae coverage had decreased since the first treatment. The Carterville FWCO hopes to continue performing limited field work at Scott Air Force Base during these challenging times.

Above: Scott Lake after two treatments of aquatic pesticide. Credit: Jeremy Andersen, USFWS.

bride crossing completed on a brook trout stream

Premier Brook Trout River Road Crossing Improvement


The East Branch of the Upper Black River is the premier brook trout fishery of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, however, the waters that author Earnest Hemingway fished have been impacted for years by development, sedimentation and fishing pressure.

A site known locally as the Shingle Mill Crossing, where the 26 foot wide East Branch of the Black River flowed through a nine foot diameter pipe culvert under County Road 622, was prone to flooding during precipitation events. The flooding would often cause the road to wash out, adding copious amounts of sediment to the river and causing reoccurring maintenance issues for the Montmorency County Road Commission. The East Branch has the coldest and most productive waters in the watershed for brook trout, so repairing this site has been a high priority for stakeholders for the past two decades.

The Upper Black River Council, a nonprofit organization and consortium of local government agencies, conservation organizations and private landowners led efforts to replace the culvert at this crossing with a 27 foot-wide bottomless ached culvert. The new structure allows the river to flow naturally under the culvert even during flood-stage precipitation events. Replacement of the crossing opened 20 miles of coldwater river habitat for brook trout at a project cost of $370,000. Construction was managed by Huron Pines (a local nonprofit organization), with funding from the Service’s Fish Passage and Partners for Fish and Wildlife Programs, the Walters Family Foundation, and the Montmorency County Road Commission. Construction was completed in the summer of 2020.

Both the Fish Passage and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program’s at the Service’s Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office have focused efforts in the Upper Black River Watershed for the past two decades.

Above: Completed culvert replacement at the "Shingle Mill" crossing on the East Branch Upper Black River, Michigan. Credit: USFWS 

lake bathymetry maps

Georeferenced depth points from fish sampling (1) were used to make triangular irregular networks, or TIN, in ArcMap (2) which were then converted to a raster layer creating a bathymetry map of Creve Coeur Lake, MO (3). Credit: Pablo Oliero, USFWS

How Deep is the Problem? Simple Bathymetry Tools for Managers


To identify habitats best suited for Bighead Carp capture with electrified trawls, the Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) is exploring different approaches to inform our study designs. One such approach utilizes readily available software coupled with previously collected data to create bathymetry maps and create depth strata. We used georeferenced depth collected during fish sampling and TIN and Raster tools in ArcMap to create bathymetry maps. These bathymetry maps allow us to investigate relationships between habitat and catch or gear efficiency to inform future studies. While true bathymetry surveys could be time consuming and require special equipment, gathering georeferenced depth data to inform fish sampling can be done with consumer grade transducers and sonars. To improve our ability to make inferences about Bighead Carp habitat associations and optimize gear efficiency for the capture of these nuisance species, the Columbia FWCO is exploring the use of hydroacoustics and other software to export georeferenced data from any brand and model of sonar. By enhancing our scientific capacity and technological tools necessary for conservation and management, the Columbia FWCO team hopes to make Bighead Carp a problem of the past.


map of fish locations

Point densities for all centrarchid species surveyed by the USFWS Green Bay FWCO’s Aquatic Invasive Species early detection team in the lower Green Bay Area of Concern from 2016-2018. Points represents individual survey locations (variety of gear types used) and heat maps represent relative fish densities at each site. Restoration project boundaries are outlined in black. Credit: Andrew Stevens, USFWS.

New Ways to Advance Aquatic Conservation 


During a normal field season, field staff at the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) collect a plethora biological data from around the Lake Michigan basin. These data are used to address specific sampling questions related to habitat, aquatic invasive species, native species recovery and management, etc. However, data can be used for multiple purposes, sometimes long after it has been collected.

One place where biological data has found new life is in the Lower Green Bay & Fox River (LGBFR) Area of Concern (AOC). Every year since 2014 the Aquatic Invasive Species crew at Green Bay FWCO has performed intensive monitoring of the fish community within the boundaries of the AOC to monitor for new exotic species. Recently, these data have been used to address a new problem, how to identify realistic conservation targets for assessing proposed habitat restoration projects under consideration in the AOC.  

These projects aim to recover beneficial use impairments (BUIs) for degraded fish and wildlife populations and habitats. Ecosystem-wide recovery progress will be tracked using project and population-specific metrics that will be assessed during a post-implementation monitoring period. In a win-win scenario, the AOC program can save substantial time and monitoring costs by leveraging the Green Bay FWCO’s efforts, who in turn, gain new habitats to assess!

This monitoring dataset has also been crucial during the planning phase where it has helped inform both broad and site-specific project decisions. For example, it is known that the AOC’s populations of centrarchids and catfish have been reduced as a result of dredging activities that removed vegetation and woody habitat. By reviewing a spatial summarization of these AIS data, projects aiming to restore these lost habitats can be strategically placed to bolster existing populations or create contiguous habitat corridors.

At the individual project level, these data have been used to tailor metrics and monitoring plans that make sense for assessing the intended outcomes of a given project. For example, the success of a near-shore reef habitat project will be evaluated using metrics and monitoring plans based on the fish captured and gear used to survey similar habitats in the AOC. In this case, the primary monitoring metric would be documenting the presence of adult Smallmouth Bass and Walleye within the project boundary during fall gillnet surveys. Additional credit would be given for documented presence of young-of-year Walleye or Smallmouth Bass using shoreline electrofishing. 

Field Station Focus: Sullivan Creek NFH

water tower wall forms

Sullivan Creek NFH Water Tower Replacement


Since 1994, the Sullivan Creek National Fish Hatchery (NFH) has produced millions of lake trout eggs in support the Great Lakes restoration effort. Unfortunately, this effort was seriously jeopardized in June when the tower that provides water to the egg building failed rather spectacularly.

On a Sunday morning, when Hatchery Manager Denise Johnston arrived at the station to care for the fish, she noted the sound of water coming from an unusual location. The water was from two pumps that normally filled the tower, but were now undercutting it and completely washing the hillside away. Without this tower, the station can't maintain this fall's egg production.

Although this situation may appear to be an unmitigated disaster, there was definitely a silver lining. First, there are no eggs in the building to worry about, only one lot of future brood. These were quickly relocated and only a few were lost. Second, a contractor had just finished a concrete knee wall on that side of the brood building, so tons of sand did not flow into raceways. Third, the tower was scheduled for replacement, so money was already allotted for the project and engineering was developing plans. Finally, a contractor was already working on the effluent system, so a contract modification allowed them to quickly start on the project.

The Good news is...although the tower isn’t quite finished, a modification to the water lines will allow us to keep the eggs, instead of having to ship them to another facility.

Above: Sullivan Creek NFH water tower wall forms are a good sign of progress. Photo courtesy of Denise Johnston, USFWS.

There's Always More to Our Story...


That's a Wrap for Multi-Year Collaboration at Lock and Dam 8


During the last week of September, the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) conducted the final round of fish collection for the University of Minnesota as part of a four-year collaboration to evaluate deterrents and fish passage at Lock and Dam 8 in Genoa, Wisconsin. As Asian carp make their way up the Mississippi River, there is increasing desire to find ways to deter and stop their spread.

The Mississippi River is fragmented into sections by numerous Lock and Dam structures. These structures have varying ability to impede Asian carp movement upstream, but the addition of deterrents like sound, bubbles and lights, may act to deter fish even futher. Led by graduate students in the lab of Dr. Peter Sorenson, the objective of the project at Lock and Dam 8 was to evaluate the ability of sound to deter upstream passage though a lock chamber.

While the larger established population of Asian carp is located a couple hundred miles downstream from this location, Lock and Dam 8 is the southern-most lock and dam in Minnesota on the Mississippi River. Because there is not an established population of Asian carp to sample, Common Carp were used as a surrogate for Bighead and Silver Carp to test the effectiveness of sound to deter upstream passage. Common Carp were chosen as a surrogate because they demonstrate similar hearing capabilities as Bighead Carp and are abundant and readily catchable in the area.

Since 2017, biologists and technicians from the La Crosse FWCO have assisted with the capture, tagging, and translocation of Common Carp for this study. During several trial periods each year, FWCO staff captured Common Carp from Pool 8 using a boat electrofisher and then assisted with the transport of the carp to Pool 9. All carp were implanted with acoustic telemetry tags as well as bright colored floy tags and released below Lock and Dam 8. Common Carp exhibit strong homing responses, which provided incentive for them to attempt passage back upstream. Fish were tracked with receivers mounted in and around the lock structure and successful passages were documented with the sound on versus the sounds off.

After four years, the final piece of the project has come to a close. While La Crosse FWCO staff are sad to see the project end, we are excited for the results to be published and hopefully aid in future Asian carp management. We are grateful to have worked with some exceptional graduate students over the course of this project and can’t wait for our next opportunity to collaborate.

Above: University of Minnesota graduate student surgically implanting an acoustic tag into a Common Carp during a 2018 tagging event. Credit: USFWS

Fish Tales

On the Road Again!

By Angela Baran Dagendesh, Genoa NFH

After an interesting spring and summer adapting to new processes in the wake of COVID-19, things are beginning to feel closer to normal this fall. Our long standing partnership with the State of Nebraska allows us to find a couple of key fish species needed as host fish for our freshwater mussel program. During the normal filling of the ponds at the North Platte State Fish Hatchery, they generally end up with many freshwater drum, a species they don’t have a need for that happens to be an important host fish species for multiple species of mussels. Their location next to the Platte River helps to provide another source of fish for our station, the flathead catfish. The hatchery has a first harvest early summer and will send out 60 freshwater drum to the La Crosse Fish Health Center for testing. They will also go out to the river and canals to collect flathead catfish, 60 for sampling and then more fish for future hosts. The North Platte Hatchery then holds the fish in a pond for Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) until the testing results clear.

We received the clean bill of health for those two groups of fish last week and traveled out to North Platte, Nebraska on September 16th, 2020. The normal travel planning this year included drafting plans on how to safely conduct the trip, finding hotel chains who provided extensive cleaning protocols and ensuring staff were equipped with hand sanitizer, face masks and gloves. After detailing the procedures and safety measures in place, we received permission to head out west to retrieve the fish. On September 17th, 2020, over 250 freshwater drum and 400 flathead catfish arrived at their new home at Genoa NFH. The fish will overwinter on station and in the spring, the flatheads will be used as hosts for the Pistolgrip mussel and the drum can be used for Butterfly, Fragile Papershell, Pink Heelsplitter or Deertoe mussels. This trip was the first of several fish hauling drives in our future as we are able to get our fish stocked out this fall!


Smallmouth Bass Broodstock Get a Boost

By Nick Bloomfield, Genoa NFH

Smallmouth Bass broodstock numbers were dwindling at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH), so it was time to give them a boost. We use wild broodstock at the hatchery to produce most of our pond species. Over time, we lose some due to age and predation. It is also beneficial to bring in some new genetics on occasion to reduce the potential for inbreeding at our stocking sites. However, before we bring new broodstock on station, we need to test our wild source for pathogens. August 25th and 26th, Jeff Lockington and I set out to do just that. We collected 60 fish from Pool 9 of the Mississippi River and another 60 from the Wisconsin River at the Wisconsin Dells, choosing two sites to test so all of our eggs weren’t in the same basket. Once we get an all clear from the La Crosse Fish Health Center, we can go back out and collect the lucky few destined to live the easy life in the station ponds making babies and eating minnows.