Fish Lines July 2021 Edition

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Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program - USFWS Midwest Region 3

July 29, 2021

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

Did You Know?

Family poses for picture

New Environmental Education Specialist at Genoa NFH

By Erica Rasmussen, Genoa NFH

Hello, my name is Erica Rasmussen and I am the new Environmental Education Specialist at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH). I am extremely excited for this opportunity and would encourage you all to stop by the Great River Road Interpretive Center (GRICC) and introduce yourself if you are in the area!

My husband, Kurt and I moved to the La Crosse area in 2006 and instantly fell in love with the area. We spent our weekends exploring the Mississippi River backwaters and hiking the beautiful bluffs. I now have two children, daughter Ava and son Easton, and a black lab named Lily. We love the outdoors and spend our free time hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting together.

I have been a teacher in the La Crosse School District for the past 14 years. I have a double major in Special Education and Regular Education at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point. I also have a master’s degree in Education from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

For the past 11 years, I have been taking my classes to the Genoa NFH for many outdoor educational experiences such as helping out with their garden, planting milkweed, trail walks, they identified animal tracks in the snow and mud, learned about furbearing mammals and learned about the history of the area. The recently constructed GRICC offered tons of new learning opportunities for my class. I truly believe that these field trips provided the most memorable learning opportunities for the students and offered me the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors and environmental education.

I now get to share my passion for the outdoors and environmental education with a wide range of audiences on a daily basis while working at Genoa NFH! I started this new position in June and the days are flying by. Please understand, I still consider myself a teacher, but my classroom now encompasses 155 acres, 20 ponds, and the GRRIC! I have already got to meet wonderful people from all over the country. Please stop on by for a tour or to explore the GRICC. We are currently open from 9 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday. There is also a beautiful gift shop available from 11am-3pm as well. I hope to see you soon!  

Above: Ava, Erica, Easton and Kurt hiking Devils Tower in Wyoming. Credit: Erica Rasmussen/USFWS

FWS pathways student operates underwater robot

Midwest Fisheries Center Tests Underwater Robot

By Jeena Koenig, Ross Ruehmann, and Mark Fritts, Midwest Fisheries Center

Staff at the Midwest Fisheries Center (MFC) have diverse missions. Staff are working on projects like aquatic habitat assessments/restoration, identifying and removing barriers to fish passage, and monitoring the distribution of aquatic invasive species. A significant amount of time and effort goes into in-person field work. New technologies, like remotely controlled underwater robots, have the potential the reduce some of the burdens of field work and improve safety of field crews by keeping those folks out of swift moving streams and culverts and away from dams. The MFC was able to purchase a new underwater robot in spring 2021 and the submersible vessel was taken for a maiden voyage in Pool 8 of the Upper Mississipi River in June. This new robot features a battery powered propulsion system that is strong enough to navigate swift currents and depths up to 98 feet. The robot also features a camera that provides a real-time video feed to the operator. The video feed can be recorded and used to produce video clips and still frame images of underwater features. We were very pleased with the performance of the robot given the challenging conditions presented in the Mississippi River. We are also excited for future opportunites to test additional features of the robot. We are hoping to test a new adjustable-grip robotic arm, high-accuracy GPS unit, and powerful new spotlights during August. Our hope is that using the underwater robot in future monitoring efforts can increase the efficiency and safety of our work and provide some valuable footage of life under the surface!

Above: USFWS Pathways intern Ross Ruehmann operates a new underwater robot in the Upper Mississippi River near La Crosse, WI. Credit: Mark Fritts/USFWS

kayaks using side scan sonar in a river

Alpena FWCO Mapping Lake Sturgeon Habitat In the Cuyahoga River, OH

By Jason Fischer, Alpena FWCO

In spring of 2021, the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) began a lake sturgeon habitat mapping project on the Cuyahoga River in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Cuyahoga Valley National Parks Service, and other partners. The river historically supported a spawning population of Lake Sturgeon but impacts from pollution and habitat fragmentation likely lead to the loss of spawning runs circa 1850 and extirpation from the river. However, water quality has improved following the signing of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972 and removal of the Brecksville Dam in 2020 resulted in an approximately 45 mile stretch of river without a man-made barrier, from Lake Erie to the Ohio Edison Dam near Akron, Ohio (OH). Given historic use by Lake Sturgeon, improvements in water quality, and removal of man-made barriers, the Cuyahoga River is a candidate system for Lake Sturgeon reintroduction, contingent upon availability of water depths, water velocities, and substrates suitable for spawning adults and development of age-0 (young-of-year) sturgeon.

Alpena FWCO is working with partners to map substrate types and channel bathymetry to quantify the amount of suitable habitat for spawning adults (rocky areas with moderate water velocity and depths) and age-0 fish (sandy and silty areas with low water velocities). Side-scan sonar is being used to map substrates throughout the 45 mile stretch from Lake Erie to the Ohio Edison Dam and the river will be revisited during low flow to ground truth sonar images with visual surveys. Channel bathymetry will also be collected and used to develop a flow model to estimate the availability of suitable water depths and velocities for multiple discharges. This project is the first step to assessing the possibility of Lake Sturgeon reintroduction in the Cuyahoga River and will help determine if the river can support Lake Sturgeon reproduction and age-0 fish.

Above: Alpena FWCO and Cuyahoga Valley NPS employees conducting a side-scan sonar survey on the Cuyahoga River. Credit: Jason Fischer/USFWS

volunteers tagging juvenile sturgeon at Genoa NFH

Sturgeon Tagging Begins

By Orey Eckes, Genoa National Fish Hatchery

Genoa National Fish Hatchery relies on volunteers and friends group members to accomplish the task of tagging our Lake Sturgeon. Each sturgeon before stocking is individually tagged by a coded wire tagging machine. This allows biologist to track growth and survival rates after stocking.

Anyone interested in tagging can please contact Erica Rasmussen or Darla Wenger (phone: 608-689-2605) or email or Your help and support for fisheries conservation is much appreciated! Get a chance to hold many of these ancient sturgeon. We will be tagging Monday-Friday from 8 AM-3 PM, starting August 9th. The tagging project usually lasts until the beginning of October or until all sturgeon have been tagged. Reserve your seat now! Before all the sturgeon are tagged.

Above: Volunteers: Kathy (pictured left) and Rosie (pictured right) tag sturgeon at Genoa NFH. Credit: Raena Parsons/USFWS

Field Focus: Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

hand holding a stocked cisco captured in Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron

Alpena FWCO Seeks Reintroduced Cisco in Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay

By Kevin N. McDonnell, Alpena FWCO

Cisco were once the most abundant pelagic fish in Lake Huron and were found “out of virtually every port on Lake Huron, in the North Channel and Georgina Bay” according to U.S. reports going back as far as 1929. Since that time cisco have largely disappeared from the majority of Lake Huron due to a variety of reasons including invasive species, spawning habitat destruction, and overharvest. Currently the distribution of cisco in Lake Huron is limited to the Les Cheneaux Islands, the North Channel and Georgian Bay. Starting in 2016 USFWS lead an effort to reintroduce cisco to the Main Basin, starting in Saginaw Bay. Saginaw Bay was a natural choice as a reintroduction site as it used to host the largest spawning aggregations of cisco in Lake Huron.

Cisco from the existing Les Cheneaux Island population were collected to develop a line of broodstock at the Jordan River National Fish Hatchery that would be used for stocking in Saginaw Bay. Beginning in 2018 approximately one million fingerling cisco have been stocked in Saginaw Bay near Tawas City annually. Shortly after the first year class was stocked, Alpena FWCO staff began monitoring Saginaw Bay hoping to answer questions such as: “Are the cisco surviving?, growing?, spawning?” and “Where do the cisco go after stocking?” We implemented several monitoring strategies including larval sampling, trawling, and gillnetting hoping to answer those questions.

In 2021 the Alpena FWCO staff were excited to get back out on the water and discover if the first year-classes of hatchery cisco had finally grown to a size that was vulnerable to sampling gears. On July 1 we had our first official recapture of a hatchery origin cisco! This eight inch, juvenile was found in a gillnet survey near Point Lookout and its hatchery origin was confirmed by evaluating its vertebrae for a oxytetracycline mark. With our first recapture in the books, we’re excited to continue our monitoring efforts to search for more hatchery fish. This fall we will implement a targeted gillnet survey to hopefully confirm that the hatchery cisco are beginning to spawn in Saginaw Bay. With our first recapture under our belts, we’re optimistic we’ll see more fish as we continue to keep an eye on Saginaw Bay.

Above: The first hatchery cisco recaptured in Saginaw Bay measured eight inches long. Credit: Kaley Genther/USFWS

And...there's always more to our story

under water image of fish

Salvaging a Sunken Project: Quick Thinking Produces Usable Data

By Garrett Johnson, Carterville FWCO

The modified-unified method (MUM) is a mass-removal technique for invasive carps (primarily silver and bighead) which uses sound and electrofishing boats to herd these fish into an enclosed area where they can be harvested using a large seine. Hydroacoustic surveys using split-beam echosounders are often used to quantify the success of removal efforts by estimating fish density before and after MUM efforts. However, the overall effectiveness of MUM efforts is often unknown because we don’t have estimates of fish escapement and avoidance during herding efforts. In February 2021, the Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) joined the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to complete a more thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of the MUM on Kentucky Lake. Our role at the Carterville FWCO was to collect data for estimating fish densities using research-grade split-beam echosounders and recreational-grade side-scan sonar (SSS) to quantify the effectiveness of successive removals.

Unfortunately, inclement weather during the MUM meant that we were unable to conduct hydroacoustic surveys concurrent with fish removals. We were able to salvage our trip by collecting data using both split-beam echosounders and SSS to facilitate comparisons between density estimates derived from both gears following the MUM removal efforts. Comparing estimates from SSS to a widely accepted gear like split-beam hydroacoustics can provide some insight into the reliability of densities estimated using SSS. Combined with reliable estimates, the affordability of SSS would make it a useful tool for fisheries managers seeking to use hydroacoustics to estimate fish densities.

Although we were unable to complete the project as planned, some quick thinking produced useful data. These data will provide insight into the utility of SSS for estimating fish densities in shallow systems and will inform future sampling efforts with these gears such as those planned for early 2022.

Above: Side-scan sonar data from hydroacoustic survey in Smith Bay, Kentucky Lake. Credit: Courtesy of Garrett Johnson/USFWS

mussels summering at the MARS trailer

Summer Mussel Propagation at the MARS Trailer

By Beth Glidewell, Genoa NFH

The MARS (Mobile Aquatic Rearing System) mussel culture trailer is set up and running for the 2021 season at Blackhawk Park, a US Army Corps of Engineers facility just south of Genoa. This location allows us to securely park the trailer on the banks of Blackhawk Slough, and to pump river water directly up to the trailer, where it is filtered, UV disinfected, and routed to 25 rectangular flow-through tanks. Each tank can house up to 250 sub-adult mussels, each about one inch long. Each tank can also hold in excess of five thousand newly transformed juvenile mussels that are about the size of a grain of sand.

Every year is different when dealing with water levels. After a couple of years of delayed trailer deployment due to high water and last year’s surprisingly ‘normal’ water levels (the only thing normal about 2020!), this year we’ve been dealing with low water situations. Low water helped simplify set-up (a big thank you to Jeff and Zach!), but reduced flow and connectivity to the main channel and reduced water quality, especially dissolved oxygen in Blackhawk Slough, which limits flow capacity from the pump. Just as we were considering starting contingency plans, much needed rains came and raised the water levels back to functional levels in mid-June.

This year’s MARS trailer group includes two sub-adult cohorts of Higgins eye, a group of Spectaclecase mussels propagated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Fatmucket, and small cohorts of Sheepnose and Lilliput mussels. The newly transformed 2021 cohorts began in late June, and now include Pocketbook, Black Sandshell, Hickorynut, Lilliput, and two sub-groups of Higgins eye, including fifty thousand (and counting) juveniles produced from parents in the St Croix River. Watch for pictures of these juveniles on the Genoa NFH Facebook page, and an article later in the year reporting their growing season progress!

Above: Sub-adult Higgins Eye nestled together in a MARS tank, with their incurrent and excurrent siphons visible. Credit: Beth Glidewell/USFWS

Fish Tales

North Fon du Lac Students Get an Extra Lesson on Fisheries Careers

By Anthony Rieth, Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Fishing Association (WIFA) was founded in 2015 as a way to promote outdoors activities and conservation related content to high school students using fishing as a tool to do so. With over 120 high school teams, the organization has a large following since its inception with many students actively participating in fishing tournaments, professional angler demonstrations, and conservation talks.

One of the WIFA associated teams, the North Fondy High School Fishing team had the opportunity to use of one their class periods to learn about fish and other conservation career fields. This spring Anthony Rieth of the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office delivered content that covered multiple subjects including; what a typical day looks like for a federal fish biologist, how to age fish using bony structures, some of the standard field equipment used in surveys, other potential natural resource related jobs, and college career paths to take when trying to get into the conservation field.

The presentation was well received, and many students reached out in the following weeks with follow up questions.

From the editor...

little girl with trout in net

Please take a Kid Fishing and Hunting and Boating and Hiking and Birding and Swimming and Camping and...


You won't regret it and They won't forget it.


Thanks for your interest and support of Fish Lines.






Above: Credit: Image courtesy of Brian Chapman/City of Sault Saint Marie, MI


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