New Fish Lines June 2021 Edition

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

July 2, 2021

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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

Did You Know?

cover of America's Bountiful Waters book

New Book Commemorates the History of Fisheries Conservation in America

By Craig Springer, HQ-WSFR and Tim Smigielski, Interior R3 FAC

Fish and Aquatic Conservation turned 150 years old on February 9, 2021. We published America’s Bountiful Waters to commemorate the milestone. The USFWS, created in 1940, descends from its forerunners the U.S. Fish Commission (1871-1903) and the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (1903-1939). The book is full of stories about fish, plants, mussels and amphibians crafted by biologists who know them best. The stories are a mix of memoir and reporting, and a blend of cultural and natural histories and biographies as well. While national in flavor, it has some Great Lakes seasoning—stories by our staff on lake trout, lake whitefish, brook trout, steelhead, northern pike, walleye, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, lake sturgeon, sea lamprey, common carp, and sunfishes. Biographical pieces adorn the book, stories about people who conserved fish, and made landmark findings and broke barriers, all toward conserving fish and fisheries. You’ll read about the Roosevelt that everyone knew—and then everyone forgot: Congressman Robert Barnwell Roosevelt. “Barnwell” as he was called among friends, was a prodigious writer on fishing and hunting and fish culture. He wrote the legislation that created the U.S. Fish Commission and what would become the National Fish Hatchery System when his nephew Teddy was a grade-schooler. You’ll read about the lives of Great Lakes fisheries biologists John Van Oosten, Frank Clark, and Dr. Louella Cable—the first female scientist employed by the USFWS, a lake trout authority hired in 1927. You may be intrigued to learn the first federal refuge for wildlife was created for fish—in 1893. Forty of the book’s forty-three contributors are current or former USFWS workers. The book has 400 images, most of which came from our National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives in Spearfish, South Dakota, and is appended with a list of current and former fisheries field stations, 495 in number compiled by the archives’ curator, April Gregory.

Above: Book cover image courtesy of Craig Springer/USFWS

higgins eye mussels tagged for release

Chippewa River Higgins Eye Reintroduction Success

By Megan Bradley, Genoa NFH

One part of many recovery efforts is to start, or reintroduce, new populations. For Higgins Eye, a historically wide-spread species that is still persistent in the greater Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers, identifying which factors make a population successful is difficult, so locations with other federally endangered species are often selected. In 2017 a few more than 3,000 Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) reared Higgins Eye subadults were stocked in the Chippewa River. The number was selected based on a conservative estimate of survival of 75% to 10 years. This year marks five years post-release and a survey was completed last week with the help of partners in the USFWS Ecological Services, and the Wisconsin DNR. This survey, while of a slightly smaller size than previous years, determined that survival is likely higher than 75%. Eight individuals were collected in quantitative sample, 16 were collected during qualitative sampling and four incidentally. 177 federally endangered Winged Mapleleaf were also reintroduced at the site and 18 were collected during the survey. The collection of individuals of both species suggest that the reintroduction was successful (greater than 50% survival for Winged Mapleleaf and greater than 75% survival for Higgins Eye) and we’ll continue to monitor to determine if the species are able to infest fish and if juvenile survival is high enough to form stable populations. Just last year many Higgins Eye were observed luring for their host fish so we look forward to finding new juveniles in a few years.

Above: 6-8 year old Higgins Eye mussels collected during qualitative sampling. You can see the diversity in color that’s been retained in the population. Credit: Megan Bradley/USFWS.

people dragging gear through the plains

La Crosse FWCO Heads West for eDNA Sampling

By Katie Lieder, La Crosse FWCO

For the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO), our invasive carp eDNA sampling takes place in relatively familiar waters. Sampling typically occurs in several pools on the Upper Mississippi River and a couple of sites in the Chicago Area Waterway System; however, this June the La Crosse FWCO staff went on a westward adventure to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to sample new waters.

Not only was the scenery new to us, but we worked alongside some new partners as well. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Legacy Region 6 staff from the Great Plains FWCO and North Dakota Ecological Services Field Office are in the process of developing an invasive carp eDNA program. During this effort, staff from both offices assisted us in the sampling process. South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, as well as University of South Dakota partners also assisted and learned the USFWS method of eDNA sampling and processing. With so many people working together, we were able to have two pairs of samplers working to collect water samples, a data recorder, and a large crew handling the coolers, buckets, and our little red wagon full of supplies.

These many hands made light work, which is good because shore sampling along the Big Sioux and East Fork Vermillion Rivers required hauling our equipment through cornfields, cow pastures, and steep, grassy riverbanks. In many places, these rivers were shallow enough to walk across in knee boots, compared to the usual large river sampling from a boat that the La Crosse FWCO is accustomed to. Sampling on the Big Sioux and East Fork Vermillion rivers took place downstream of probable barriers to upstream fish movement near places where invasive carp have been observed in the past. The detection of invasive carp eDNA in these locations will provide baseline data on our ability to detect eDNA in these waterbodies. This will inform future sampling events, including those above the barriers on these rivers.

Above: The eDNA sampling crew makes its way to the sampling site on the East Fork Vermillion River, gear in tow. Credit: Katie Lieder/USFWS

mussel holding cage and silo

Genoa NFH Continues Collaboration with the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

By Beth Glidewell , Genoa NFH

Last year partners from the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa placed juvenile fatmucket mussels produced at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) into silos in Bee Branch, a recently ‘day lighted’ urban stream in Dubuque. This process of ‘day lighting’ a stream, or transforming an urban, underground drainage-way into an open creek and green space better suited for flood mitigation, has been an extensive project undertaken by the City of Dubuque and numerous partners.

Now that construction work is complete for much of the upper section of the project, the restoration of the stream’s ecology begins in earnest. The mussels placed in silos (stable concrete containers that can withstand changing water flow conditions in a creek, and securely house juvenile mussels) last year were used to evaluate water quality conditions in the creek over the growing season, and through the winter. This information - ‘can mussels survive in the Bee Branch?’ will help answer questions about future restoration plans for the creek and is a critical component of the River Museum’s community outreach, helping to share stream ecology work with community members.

In the silos, mussel survivorship over the last growing season was variable, though some silos had up to 90% survivorship over the summer, and a check of the silos earlier this summer showed encouraging results. In May of this year, a new round of fatmucket were placed in the silos, ready for the growing season to start. About 30 mussels per container, each about (0.39-0.79 inches) in length were deployed, and will be checked throughout the summer by River Museum staff and community members.

Above: Checking a silo from last season, the concrete structure and mussel holding cage portion is undamaged and ready for a new season in the creek. Credit: Megan Bradley/USFWS

new boat

Wilmington Substation Gets New Hydroacoustics Boat

By Eric Brossman, Carterville FWCO- Wilmington Substation

Even while the field season winds down in fall, the Wilmington Substation continues their ongoing hydroacoustic monitoring for invasive carp in the upper Illinois River pools and the Electric Fish Dispersal Barrier (EFDB) on the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal throughout the year.

In order to perform this work, the biologists and technicians designed a specialized watercraft to utilize the hydroacoustic equipment effectively and safely. First, the vessel should have an enclosed cabin. Performing fieldwork on the EFDB is inherently dangerous as the water is charged with high voltage electricity. The crew needs an enclosed cabin to remove the risk of falling in the water at the EFDB. The computers that run the equipment, need to be protected from the elements along with an adequate workspace. As mentioned before, these regular monitoring trips occur during the hottest and coldest times of the year so a boat with an enclosed climate controlled cabin is a bonus. Second, the boat must be large enough to carry bulky equipment, computers, generator, and a crew of three people. The deck needs enough space to accommodate davit cranes to mount and deploy the split beam transducers and towfish sonar scanner. Finally, the boat needs to track smoothly and not be prone to rocking as this can confound the data collected by the hydroacoustic instruments.

The Wilmington Substation designed a boat with Oqauwka Boats and Fabrication Inc. to conduct their hydroacoustic scans with these criteria in mind. The new vessel will have a relatively flat (8 degree dead rise) bottom to reduce the side-to-side pitching during gear calibration and scanning for invasive carp. The deck space was designed to facilitate the deployment of the hydroacoustic gear via crane davits at the bow and stern. We wanted the davits to be hand operated to remove the need for maintaining additional batteries. The interior of the boat cabin was designed to essentially be a floating office. There is a work station to mount computer monitors with storage underneath the table to secure the computer. Opposite the work station is a bench for additional seating with ample storage inside to organize tools and safety equipment. The cabin has doors at the front and rear so the crew can walk between the bow and stern without walking alongside the gunnels and risk slipping and falling overboard. Finally, the most important feature, the cabin is insulated with heating and air conditioning units to keep the crew and equipment safe during all seasons.

When the new boat was designed, we tried to incorporate features that we needed from our previous hydroacoustic boats into a single comprehensive design. Wilmington staff are optimistic that this new vessel will be very beneficial tool in our monitoring efforts.

Above: New Wilmington Substation Hydroacoustics Vessel. Credit: Eric Brossman/USFWS

Megan Bradley works on glochidia from mussels

Snuffbox Mussel Restoration

By Megan Bradley, Genoa NFH

In collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) is planning to restore Snuffbox populations in the Wolf River basin. Last fall, WDNR biologists spent some chilly dive days aggregating males and females to ensure that brooding females could be found this spring. The first tiny mussels which are about .006 inches long are expected shortly. Soon these mussels will go out into the Mobile Aquatic Rearing System at Blackhawk, the U.S. Army Corps Park, to eat the natural food in Mississippi river water (bacteria and algae) and grow large enough to overwinter well at the hatchery, for release in 2023. Snuffbox is a particularly favorite species as it’s the only widespread member of their genus, all of whom catch their host fish. This unexpected behavior begets novel characteristics (‘toothed’ shell edges, the capacity to sit open, exposing their body cavity to the environment) making these species fascinating to observe. How these behaviors and morphologies, or physical characteristics in biology jargon, have developed and been maintained is fascinating to consider. We look forward to sharing more information about this species and others reared at the hatchery as our buildings open to the public and events develop in the coming years.

Above: Genoa NFH Mussel Biologist Megan Bradley extracts glochidia from a female Snuffbox. Credit: Beth Glidewell/USFWS  

Field Focus: Whitney Genetics Lab

a hand holding a male topeka shiner

Whitney Genetics Lab Efforts in  Monitoring for Topeka Shiners

By Austin Hannah, Whitney Genetics Lab

The Whitney Genetics Laboratory (WGL) is steadily expanding its portfolio of environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring programs with the help of the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) and partner state agencies throughout Interior Region 3. Invasive carp eDNA monitoring remains the primary focus of WGL’s efforts; however, we are initiating several eDNA monitoring projects spanning native fishes, amphibians, crustaceans, freshwater mussels, and reptiles.

One of our most exciting opportunities is a collaborative plan to use eDNA for the routine monitoring of the endangered Topeka Shiner. As a part of this effort, I traveled with La Crosse FWCO staff in early June to Luverne, Minnesota to assist with seining, eDNA sample collection, and initial sample processing. Topeka Shiners prefer slow-moving areas of prairie streams as well as seasonally separated meanders off the mainstem stream called oxbows. We collected 198 total eDNA samples from three oxbows, two of which we subsequently seined and confirmed held Topeka Shiners. In addition to the eDNA samples, I was able to collect thirty fin clips from individuals collected from five different sites. We are using the data collected from the Luverne sites to accomplish two goals: 1) validate eDNA assays that we have thus far only tested in our lab, and 2) compare the efficacy of two eDNA sample processing methods; centrifuging and filtering. We hope to extract samples soon so that our results will help guide sampling efforts for Topeka Shiners as early as the next planned sampling event in September 2021.

Above: Male Topeka Shiner collected from oxbow outside of Luverne, Minnesota. Credit: Austin Hannah/USFWS

oxbow where sampling for Topeka shiner eDNA was completed

Oxbow in ‘Touch the Sky’ unit of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR in Luverne, MN. This oxbow served as our third and final collection site. Four Topeka Shiner individuals were collected from this site after eDNA collection. Credit: Austin Hannah, USFWS

There's Always More to Our Story

Silver Carp mortality

Short Term Mortality Rates of Silver Carp in Creve Coeur Lake, Missouri

By Thomas Olinger, Columbia FWCO 

As electrified trawl gears are evaluated for non-lethal sampling purposes, understanding mortality rates associated with their use becomes critical. Examples of non-lethal sampling purposes for Silver Carp, our target species, may include dozer trawling for a tagging study or paupier trawling to remove fresh fish for consumption. Understanding how novel gears compare to conventional electrofishing is also important, but the first step was to determine whether an in-lake mortality study using large enclosures to hold large-bodied fish was feasible.

Creve Coeur Lake is a 320 acre Missouri River oxbow lake near St. Louis, Missouri and was chosen because it contains Silver Carp yet provides relatively stable water conditions. In November 2020, a conventional boat electrofisher, electrified dozer trawl, and electrified paupier trawl were used to collect a target of 30 Silver Carp each on three different days, which were transferred to separate enclosure nets. Enclosure nets consisted of modified batting cages (12 feet x 12 feet x 60 feet) to allow for ample recovery space and mimic a lake setting while allowing fish from each gear type to remain separated for an overnight holding period and subsequent evaluation of mortality.

This study demonstrated that an in-situ mortality study is feasible. The enclosure design and installation process were successful after modifications to more securely anchor enclosures and prevent net collapse. Collectively, 253 Silver Carp were captured. Only a single fish collected by the conventional boat electrofisher died, which displayed an abnormal posterior end (see picture), and precluded observations of mortality patterns. Future iterations of this project will include a longer holding period, with a likely minimum of four days and eventual evaluation of bycatch. Although long-term survival rates for trawling with electrical pulses still need to be described, these novel gears are promising capture methods for invasive carp research and management actions.

Above: Adult Silver Carp from Creve Coeur Lake, Missouri (photo from 11/13/2020). Credit: Thomas Olinger/USFWS

FWS biologist inserts telemetry tag

Fish Telemetry: Am I following the fish or are they following me?

By Jen-Luc Abeln, Carterville FWCO-Wilmington Substation

Invasive bigheaded carps are highly mobile species capable of moving hundreds of miles every year to spawn and find feeding habitats. One of the techniques used to assess the movement of invasive carps is acoustic telemetry. A transmitter is implanted in an invasive carp, which is then released, and tracked manually or via receiver stations spread out in a river. The Wilmington substation assists a collaborative telemetry workgroup on the Illinois River by tagging invasive carps, maintaining receiver stations, and sharing detection data to help make informed decisions about invasive carp management. This workgroup seeks to quantify the likelihood of invasive carps transiting lock and dam structures and inform removal efforts about gatherings of carp.

In early April, staff at the Wilmington substation tagged 100 invasive bigheaded carps in the Peoria pool of the Illinois River in support of this collaborative effort. The week prior, six receiver stations were deployed along the 73 mile expanse of the pool. In early May, the first downloads from these stations were performed. Of the combined 36,232 detections downloaded from the stations, it was shown that 23 of the 100 invasive carps tagged in April had passed by at least one of the receiver stations, along with another 20 fish from partner agencies.

One of those partner agency fish, a male Silver Carp, was detected by five of the stations moving upstream from approximately 58 miles. This fish was tagged four years prior on April 12th, 2017 by me, the author, as part of my graduate work at Southern Illinois Univeristy. It feels as though this fish has followed me downstream through a lock and dam from the pool where I originally tagged it, yet four years to the date later, I am still tagging invasive carps and doing telemetry, although under a new title and new agency. Likely this fish is migrating upstream to spawn as the water temperature is rising towards 64.4°F, which is part of a spawning queue for invasive carps. As it awaits a discharge pulse to spawn this fish is continuing to provide data to the telemetry workgroup to assist with figuring out invasive carp movements. I take a small bit of pride in this fish, even if it is a problematic species, because it has provided interesting movement data, and I hope that some of the 100 fish tagged in April continue to assist in better elucidating the movements of invasive carps as well. These may be some of the last detections for this fish, as its transmitter is expiring later this year, but the collaborative efforts of the workgroup allowed me a clearer window into this individuals movement history all while it and thousands of other tagged invasive carps reveal the hidden movements of these species.

Above: A Carterville FWCO, Wilmington Substation staff member implants an acoustic transmitter into an invasive Silver Carp. Credit: Charlie Wainright/ USFWS


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