Fish Lines September 2021 Edition

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Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program - USFWS Midwest Region 3

September 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?

endangered spotted gar fish with long snout and spots

First Endangered Spotted Gar Captured in West Harbor- Lake Erie, Ohio

By Kristen Towne and Janine Lajavic, Alpena FWCO-Detroit River Substation

While sampling for newly introduced aquatic invasive species in West Harbor, Marblehead, Ohio, the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) Early Detection and Monitoring (EDM) Program managed to capture an endangered Spotted Gar, a very rare species in Lake Erie. Although a limited number have been captured in East Harbor, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first time this species has been captured in the West Harbor.

Spotted Gar are piscivorous, ambush predators that prefer shallow, densely vegetated habitats. While they were historically common in Lake Erie bays and wetlands, anthropogenic habitat destruction through vegetation removal and increased nutrient and sediment loading have resulted in a steep decline in their population size over the last several decades. The introduction and establishment of non-native species such as Common Carp and Eurasian milfoil are hypothesized to have negatively impacted the Spotted Gar population as well.

This capture has been entered into the Ohio State University (OSU) Museum of Biological Diversity database. According to Brian Zimmerman, Research Associate with the Stream and River Ecology Lab at OSU, “These sorts of records are great for better understanding where our rare fish in Ohio are located.” This detection highlights one of the many ancillary benefits of the work done by the Great Lakes FWCO EDM programs in the pursuit of detecting new invasive species.

Above: Spotted Gar captured in West Harbor Marblehead, Ohio. Credit: Janine Lajavic/USFWS

small alke sturgeon with orange tag in side

Determining PIT Tag Retention in Young of Year Lake Sturgeon

By Orey Eckes, Genoa National Fish Hatchery

As fish biologists we strive to always do what’s best for the resource. That means making sure the work that we do at the hatchery has a long-lasting impact. In this case, we are PIT (passive integrated transponder) tagging lake sturgeon to determine retention rates. These stocked fish will be assessed in the future by field biologists to determine survival and growth rates. This means making sure we are doing our job at the hatchery, so the field biologists will be able to successfully identify a fish that was stocked from the hatchery, ensuring that the tag is still present at the time of recapture.

Data from this study will be used to address questions: 1) Does PIT tag location or PIT tag size influence tag retention? 2) Does the size of the fish correlate to tag retention? 3) How long should a fish be held in the hatchery before it is released to be certain the tag will remain in the fish? 3) After being PIT tagged do the fish still grow at the same rate as they would without a PIT tag? To answer these questions, USFWS and Toledo Zoo (OH) staff are partnering to do a paired study. Fish will be PIT tagged at Genoa National Fish Hatchery and the Toledo Zoo sturgeon streamside rearing trailer. Since both facilities use different water sources this will allow us to determine if retention rates differ between fish raised at the hatchery vs. fish raised on river water. Three different size classes of fish will be used for this study and each group will have a control group that does not have a PIT tag. The results of this study will allow us to make the best management practices for PIT tagging lake sturgeon in the future.

Above: Lake sturgeon that has been PIT tagged. (See) PIT tag located on left side of the fish toward the center. Credit: USFWS 

senior in wheelchair reels in a big trout

Seniors Fishing Event a Success

By Carey Edwards, Iron River NFH

In Late August, the Iron River National Fish Hatchery (NFH) had the opportunity to participate in a Senior Fishing Event.  The event was held at the Ashland Health and Rehabilitation Center and was organized by the North Wisconsin Rod and Gun Club. 

The Ashland Fire Department provided a portable tank and filled it with fresh water from Lake Superior. The Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center provided the rods and reels and bait and tackle for trout fishing.  Lastly, Iron River NFH provided surplus brood stock brook trout, which was the final ingredient for this special event…almost. 

As it turned out, Lake Superior’s water was  much warmer than the hatchery’s water supply.  Enter Arctic Ice!  They donated enough ice to chill the water down to make a suitable environment for the trout.

Once the brook trout were offloaded into the tank, it was game on!  About thirty participants over a four hour period surrounded the tank to fish and enjoy each other’s company.  One man jokingly said, “I’ve spent thousands of dollars on fishing tacking and equipment over my lifetime and what do I catch the biggest brook trout of my life on? A Snoopy rod!”  Christie, a women well into her 80s, was fishing for the first time in her life.  A staff member told me that “Christie was very nervous all morning because she had never fished before and didn’t want to do it the wrong way.”  Christie caught her very first fish and broke into tears because she was so happy. It was an emotional experience for everyone. 

One thing was very clear, this event was a success.  Whether participants fished or not, or were lucky enough to catch a fish, everyone was having a good time, including me.  At Iron River NFH, we have events and activities that older individuals can participate in, like our 3D archery range, cross country ski trail and Candlelight Trek but we seem to really focus more on youth events.  This has given me a new perspective about reaching both the young and young at heart and I hope we can participate in this event next year.

Above: This senior reels in a whopper trout at the fishing event organized by the Northern Wisconsin Rod and Gun Club. Credit:Image courtesy of Carey Edwards/USFWS

a winged mapleleaf mussel displaying open shell

Winged Mapleleaf Mussels Take Off for the Fall

By Megan Bradley, Genoa National Fish Hatchery

Genoa National Fish Hatchery biologists joined partners from the National Park Service, the Minnesota-Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to search for displaying Winged Mapleleaf this year.

Over the past four years we’ve experienced different patterns of flow and temperature during fall and this year is different still, with very low water levels and early cool temperatures. The Winged Mapleleaf responded and were up and very active early, but over the past week as flows increased they burrowed back down. It’s odd, we predict what we think the mussels will do in response to changes in their environment, and burrowing down is not what we would have predicted. As in previous years, we have many plans for the mussel larvae; for example, collaborative projects with USGS and Minnesota DNR,  infesting tagged channel catfish released back into the St. Croix river, and producing juveniles for our own rearing at the hatchery.

Above: A Winged Mapleleaf in early display. When she is ready to infest her host fish, this grey protuberance will expand and will sit at the center of a grey plate of inflated mantle and she will not pull back when disturbed. Credit: Megan Bradley/USFWS

boats on a river pulled up on shore

We are Working Together to Compare Sampling Techniques

By Rebecca Lucas, Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

The Carterville and Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices spent three weeks conducting a collaborative gear comparison study of the effectiveness of the electrified dozer trawl and modified boat electrofishing technique at capturing silver carp.

Because silver carp are typically found in greater densities in tributaries than in mainstem waters, we intended to conduct ten transects and capture 100 silver carp for aging structures per sampling technique in major tributaries to the Mississippi River, the Cache River in Illinois, and the Des Moines River in Iowa. However, low water levels in some of the tributaries and inclement weather required on-site adjustments to our protocols. In some cases, this meant completing fewer transects whereas, in others it meant sampling the mainstem Mississippi River near the confluence with the target tributaries.

Despite these adjustments, silver carp were abundant and we were able to collect plenty of aging structures. A subset of silver carp were also sexed and the gonads assessed to determine the maturity status of each individual. In addition, we collected data (abundance and length) on all fish species captured. These data, along with the time of each transect and the area covered for each technique were recorded for later analysis. This was an excellent opportunity to build comradery between the offices and the data collected will help determine differences in the effectiveness of each sampling technique for capturing silver carp.

Above: The electrified dozer trawl boat and the electrofishing boat pulled up on shore for lunch break on the Mississippi River. Credit: Dan Madziarz/USFWS

Field Focus: Pendills Creek National Fish Hatchery

boardwalk and gazebo with lake superior in the background

Friends of Pendills Creek Hatchery Continue Their Work

By Julie Timmer, Pendills Creek National Fish Hatchery

During the Covid-19 pandemic the Friends of Pendills Creek Hatchery (FPCH) have continued their support of the hatchery and community. While their activities have been altered a bit, they are adapting. FPCH has been working tirelessly on membership drives, as fundraisers have taken on a whole new look since early in 2020. The friends have been working hard to establish and maintain their social media presence. In addition, the group continues to ensure the public beach access site is clean and well-maintained, since the site has been experiencing high traffic volume over the past 18 months.

Our popular youth fishing day usually held the first weekend in June, was cancelled in 2020 due to changes in our operations in response to the pandemic. Now again in 2021, due to continued uncertainty, as well as construction at Pendills Creek National Fish Hatchery, the annual FPCH kid's fishing event had to be cancelled. Ever committed, the friends group is gearing up for hosting a youth fishing day in the future and we all look forward to resuming this fun filled event in our community.

Next up for the group is a project to establish an ADA accessible ramp at the public beach access site pavilion and kiosk area.

FPCH members plan to provide tours at the both Pendills Creek and Sullivan Creek hatcheries for local schools in the future and the friends also plan construction of a gazebo and/or bench at a site within Superior Township Park along Waishkey (Whiskey) River.

Above: Boardwalk at Pendills Creek NFH public beach access site, installed by the Friends of Pendills Creek Hatchery. Credit: USFWS

There's Always More to Our Story

underwater robot

More on the Midwest Fisheries Center Underwater Robot

By Rebecca Neeley and Jeena Koenig, La Crosse FWCO

In July 2021, the Midwest Fisheries Center (MFC) introduced the region to the newest member of the team, the underwater robot. Since July, staff from the MFC have been able to take the robot out on multiple test runs to prepare it for field use. With the new robotic arm and spotlight, staff are able to use the robot for telemetry gear retrieval, mussel and habitat surveys, and invasive species tracking.

Staff from the MFC ventured out to a local river to field test new attachments for the robot. The robot itself is controlled using a handheld controller, not unlike a video game controller. The controller is attached to a smartphone but can also be attached to a tablet for a bigger screen as it has real-time video. The controller options allow for the pitch and direction to be changed on the robot as it moves along in the water along with additional functions within the app used on the tablet/phone such as light filters. The first attachment staff used was the diving spotlight. Although the river was a little murky, staff could easily see underwater using this intense spotlight. The diving light has a brightness of up to 12,000 lumens and can work at depths of up to 328 feet.

The next attachment staff tested was the robotic arm. The robotic arm has a maximum drag force of 15 pounds, although the force is adjustable. When used in telemetry gear retrieval, staff can grab the gear, disengage the robot and reel in the robot using the cord reel. The robotic arm worked well, although there was a slight learning curve as the arm attachment changes how the robot moves in the water. Once staff got the hang of the arm, it was easy to maneuver and to control the gripping arm.

Staff from the MFC are excited about the potential uses of the underwater robot and look forward to putting it to good use in the field this fall.

Above: Midwest Fisheries Center Staff, Ross Ruehmann and Jeena Koenig prepare the underwater robot for deployment and testing of it's new features. Credit: Rebecca Neeley/USFWS

blue sky and clouds over Genoa NFH

The Changing Skyline at Genoa NFH

By Doug Aloisi, Genoa National Fish Hatchery

Sometimes if you wait long enough, an opportunity to do something meaningful just happens along. This happened to us at the Genoa station this past year. The electric company that supplies backup power to the hatchery, Excel Energy, has for years wanted to reroute a section of their power lines that ran through our pond system westward to the state right of way on Highway 35. Unfortunately, that reroute would have run directly past our new Interpretive Center, whose main attraction is the view of the hatchery grounds, Mississippi River bluffs and River habitat that surrounds us.

In negotiations with the electric supplier, it was decided to bury the line past the visitor center. The one added benefit of this is that it eliminated the need for overhead lines that bisected our pond system. The lines have been a safety concern for the staff, having to navigate them during pond harvesting. The overhead lines have also been an environmental concern. We have an extensive bird population that flies through the hatchery at any given time. If the birds happen to inadvertently contact the wires, they are subject to electrocution and instant death. Also, buried cables provide added protection for our electrical supply lines to our fish life support systems at the hatchery. They reduce the chance of failure due to the increasing frequent severe weather events that have plagued the area in recent years.

And now, with the completion of this project, and another project to bury supply lines from our primary producer, the hatchery skyline will be free of utility lines from west to east. This project, undertaken with Vernon Electric, will also ensure uninterrupted power to some of our most remote buildings. Buildings such as the mussel building, which normally houses and contains life support systems of some of the nation’s most rare and threatened species. Safety of staff, the critters and being able to enjoy the beautiful views of the Driftless Region will make these projects a joy to complete this fall. Come down and enjoy the view as you travel Wisconsin’s All American Road!

Above: Our View from the hatchery office looking south toward the Mississippi River bluffs overlooking a hatchery pond on a beautiful summer morning. Credit: Megan Bradley/USFWS.

Fish Tales

Region 3 Conducts MOCC Training at Alpena FWCO

By Adam Kowalski, Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

Region 3 Motorboat Operator Certification Course (MOCC) instructors – Adam Kowalski, Scott Koproski, and Anjanette Bowen, along with Pete Lacombe from the Spencer F. Baird Conducted an MOCC course in Alpena, Michigan. The course was conducted at Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office during July 27-29, 2021. MOCC is designed to give training to Department of Interior (DOI) employees before they are allowed to operate DOI watercraft.

The following is a list of topics covered during the course: in-water survival, proper use of floatation devices, proper anchoring techniques, required and recommended equipment for DOI vessels, changing a propeller, how to properly connect a boat trailer to a vehicle, how to tow a trailer with a vehicle, rules of the road, navigational aides, slow-speed maneuvers, at-speed maneuvers, proper launching and retrieval of vessels, proper docking techniques, and aquatic nuisance species spread prevention.

All students successfully completed the training and reported that they felt that this course provided the necessary tools to begin operating vessels in a safe and prudent manner.

Motor Boat Operator Certification Course M/V Spencer F. Baird Safety Module

By Adam Kowalski, Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

Motorboat Operator Certification Course (MOCC) instructors Adam Kowalski (Alpena FWCO), Dave Wedan, (LaCross FWCO), Scott Koproski (Alpena FWCO), Keith Duffton (M/V Baird), Pete LaCombe (M/V Baird), Jim Darga (M/V Baird), and Ted Eggebraaten conducted a two day M/V Spencer F. Baird Safety Module in Cheboygan, MI on July 21-22, 2021. The M/V Baird Module was designed to provide safety information and awareness to all Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employees who will be working on the M/V Spencer F Baird.

The following is a list of topics covered during the course: vessel orientation, life raft deployment, in-water survival, person overboard rescue techniques, waves and weather informational resources, required and recommended equipment, proper use of vessel communication systems, emergency procedures, anchor/fog watch, cargo handling, docking/undocking/line handling procedures, emergency egress, fire suppression, and gear deployment and retrieval.

The course was delivered to staff from the Midwest Region’s National Fish Hatcheries and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices. Students reported that they learned a great deal about safety elements associate with working aboard the M/V Baird and felt this course provided the basic information required to properly respond to an emergency situation if it arose while working on the vessel. . Students left feeling confident they could deploy a life raft and make the proper life-saving decisions for themselves and everyone on board.

From the editor...

An August sunrise on Lake Michigan near the port of Ludington, Michigan.

another sunrise

The editor makes no claims of being an expert photographer...Just sharing a Great morning...Thanks


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