Fish Lines August 2022 Edition

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Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program - USFWS Midwest Region 3 

August 29, 2022

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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 tim_smigielski@fws.gov

Did You Know?

crew of FWS staff working with mussels on a boat

Partners from the USACE, MN DNR, WI DNR, and USWFS, take data from federally endangered Higgins Eye mussels before relocating them back to into the Wisconsin River. Credit: Wes Bouska/USFWS

Pollywogging for Conservation

By Wes Bouska, La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

As an Aquatic Invasive Species biologist focused on invasive carps, the opportunity to help with native species work is always a welcome change of pace.  Such an opportunity presented itself this July, when I volunteered to assist with a mussel relocation effort on the Wisconsin River.  I joined mussel biologists from the Wisconsin DNR, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Minnesota DNR, to try to find and relocate some Higgins Eye mussels that had previously been stocked in a particular side channel several years ago as part of a reintroduction effort.  Physical conditions at the stocking site were changing, and there was some concern about whether the site would continue to provide good habitat for the federally endangered mussels.

The order of the day was to scour the side channel and look for these Higgins Eye mussels, collect them, record their size and sex, and then relocate them further downriver to a more suitable and stable habitat.  The river was low enough that divers were not necessary.  Instead, the main mussel biologists donned snorkeling gear while I employed the “pollywog” method, using my feet to feel for mussels along the bottom.  Any rough patch felt by my foot amongst the sand warranted closer inspection, and I would bend over and feel through the sand and gravel with my fingers, scooping up any mussels from the waist deep water for closer inspection. 

There was high diversity at the site, and I collected a good variety of species before coming across my first Higgins Eye.  Some of the rare mussels still sported small dots of epoxy on their shell that were originally applied at the hatchery years prior, to help identify their origin and importance.  Over the course of two hours at the site, our group managed to collect 42 different Higgins Eye mussels, eight of which were located by my big feet.  Not bad for an inexperienced pollywogger!

As we boated downstream to the relocation site, I reflected on what an enjoyable day it had been.  At that moment, a large Silver Carp jumped out of the water next to our boat and seemed to be staring me right in the face.  It was a good reminder that the conservation of our native species often goes hand-in-hand with our attempts to control the invasive ones, and that we are all in partnership together with shared goals for our natural resources.  It was certainly fun to be a mussel biologist for a day!

czech scientists pose for picture

Parasitologists from Czech Republic Visit Fish Health Center

By Eric Leis, La Crosse Fish Health Center

A few years back, the La Crosse Fish Health Center published a couple manuscripts redescribing parasites known to infect black and brown bullheads. Their purpose was to morphologically redescribe these species as well as provide molecular data, something that could not have been done during their descriptions more than 50 years ago. These papers were read by another laboratory at the Institute for Vertebrate Biology (IVB) in the Czech Republic, where they were studying the parasites of invasive fish in Europe. Through our email correspondence, we discussed the parasitic infections associated with European bullheads and slides containing mounted parasites from our studies in North America were sent for comparison. It was determined that a cryptic parasite species, which was slightly different morphologically but had significant genetic differences, was present on the European bullheads. This work culminated in the description of a new species, Gyrodactylus melas, which was found in Europe but likely native to North America.

This year the IVB lab received funding to visit North America to examine fish and their parasites in their native range which are invasive to Europe. One of the places they chose to visit during their travel abroad was the La Crosse Fish Health Center. The fish they were primarily interested in studying included bullheads and pumpkinseed sunfish; both of which are common and widespread in the upper Midwest and were introduced to Europe more than a century ago. Their visit was very fruitful and over the course of the week many parasites were found, including some new species. One evening the group also took some time to tour a local dairy farm and assisted with milking the cows. It was a great visit and both labs look forward to continued future collaboration. Many thanks also go out to the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office for their help collecting the fish from local waterbodies.

Above: Visitors from Czech republic take time to pose for a picture with USFWS biologist Eric Leis. Credit: Image courtesy of Eric Leis/USFWS     

brook trout in a tote full of water

Alpena FWCO Collaborates on Brook Trout Population Monitoring in Northern MI

By Stefan Tucker, Jess Kosiara, and Aodan Criagie, Alpena FWCO

The Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) and numerous project partners (Michigan DNR, Trout Unlimited, Huron Pines, Tipp of the Mitt Watershed Council, and Conservation Resource Alliance), have worked together to identify and implement restoration projects in the form of road-stream crossing improvements throughout Northern Michigan, with the goal of improving fish passage, stream function, and aquatic connectivity. Brook Trout, the only native inland trout species to Michigan, are the focal species to benefit from these restoration actions.

Stefan Tucker, joined the Alpena FWCO as a new biologist for the Fish habitat and passage program, February of 2022, to help design and conduct monitoring of Brook Trout populations in priority watersheds pre and post-construction surrounding restoration actions.  Brook Trout restoration projects span across Region 3, where pre-season discussions among Alpena, Green Bay, Ashland and the Lower Great Lakes FWCO’s provided an opportunity for biologists to align objectives, methodologies, and metrics in efforts to standardize work plans and have the ability to synthesize results from long term monitoring data across the region. 

The field season began in May 2022, as site selection and survey reaches were established in coordination with the Michigan DNR and Trout Unlimited, as well as vital cooperation with private landowners. Backpack electrofishing surveys began in June 2022, which required and provided a unique opportunity for in-house collaboration and training across Alpena FWCO programs. Jess Kosiara, working with the Aquatic Invasive Species program, stepped up to take on additional duties and help initiate field sampling activities. Alpena FWCO, has also on-boarded Aodan Craigie, through the Student Conservation Association program, where Aodan has quickly become an asset to multiple teams at the Alpena FWCO. Aoden’s primary role at the Alpena FWCO is to assist the Native Species Program; however, Aoden jumped on all opportunities to gain additional hands-on training and experience assisting with Brook Trout monitoring.  

Alpena FWCO currently has ten active projects, across four watersheds, for the 2022 season, which will restore over 35 miles of stream connectivity.  Restoring fish habitat and stream connectivity has been a priority for the Alpena FWCO with a total of 68 fish passage projects funded since 1999 to connect over 460 river/stream miles. This work would not be successful if it weren’t for the collaboration and sharing across state agencies, non-profit conservation groups, private landowners, and regional FWCO programs. The Alpena FWCO is excited for new and continued collaboration opportunities as fish habitat and passage projects continue to grow and expand across the region.

Above: Brook Trout collected during stream survey in northern Michigan. Credit: Stefan Tucker/Alpena FWCO

lake sturgeon being released from an orange bucket

Sturgeon Distribution Season Begins With a Flourish

By Doug Aloisi, Genoa National Fish Hatchery

When August rolls around, the Genoa National Fish Hatchery is roughly 70% through the yearly growing season for age 0+ lake sturgeon fingerlings.  The fish have grown from egg to roughly three to six inches long, depending on which river strain of four to six rivers that they are from and the spawning month of their birth river.

Lake sturgeon that the station collects may spawn from mid-April to mid-June, which makes for quite a large travelling area to collect from in spring.  Now the fish are being fed frozen bloodworms and frozen ocean krill.  They can grow as much as two inches a month at this stage, and this helps them avoid predation in the wild as they begin to outgrow some of their earlier predators.   Around this time, due to lake sturgeon being such prolific egg producers, we begin to outgrow our tank space in the two buildings that we use to raise the young fingerlings.  The amount of fry surplus to our fish restoration plan requests are used either in other conservation agencies restoration programs, or research to ensure sea lamprey control treatments are at a level to be effective and still safe for lake sturgeon fry that are still residing in their birth or natal streams.  Surplus fish this year totaled 68,000 lake sturgeon distributed to two state conservation agencies, one federal conservation agency, a federal research center and a zoo working cooperatively with the USFWS on sturgeon conservation. 

Now that room has been freed up to grow the remainder of this year’s production, the remaining 31,500 fish will be grown to seven inches in length to increase post stocking survival and released into waters from Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, and New York state.  Research has shown that once the fish have reached the larger size of seven inches, post stocking survival increases several fold from a smaller release size.  The fish should reach this size from mid-September to mid-October this year, when the next distribution sequence will begin in earnest.  Then coldwater species egg collections and receipts arrive and an entirely new chapter of life will begin.  

Above: About ten lake sturgeon being released into the water.  Credit: Scott Schlueter/USFWS. 

animal skulls for educational displays

Restoring Animal Skulls for Outreach and Education

By Michael Schindler, Alpena FWCO

Near the end of winter, as pandemic restrictions became more relaxed, the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation office (FWCO)  began to prepare materials for public educational and outreach events. One task was to repair animal skulls that are used to teach children how to recognize animals found in the local area. Children are allowed to examine various animal skulls and furs from species native to northern Michigan including black bear, white-tail deer, American beaver and coyote. The children get to figure out which skulls are from herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores by examining their teeth. Then they use other clues, such as the size of the skull, placement of eyes, and length of nose to further identify the animal. After that they are tasked with matching the skulls with the corresponding fur. 

Due to the wear and tear of being handled by the public, particularly children, the skulls occasionally need to be repaired. The repair involved super gluing teeth, jawbones, and various other pieces back into place. For some of the larger animals a metal wire was attached the back of the jawbone and to its proper place on the skull to retain the ability to open and close the mouth. The damaged skulls were repaired by Alpena FWCO staff member Michael Schindler and originally harvested and prepared by Fish Biologist Adam Kowalski.

Above: Animal Skulls ready for educational events.  Top row: black bear, male white-tail deer, female whitetail deer.  Bottom row: American beaver and coyote. Credit: Michael Schindler/USFWS

Field Focus: Ludington Biological Station

FWS employee working on Sea Lamprey control at a barrier

Sea Lamprey Control Spreads the Distance

By Jenna Tews, Ludington Biological Station

Effective control of invasive sea lamprey populations requires constant evaluation of our current control techniques and development of new methodologies. To accomplish Sea Lamprey Control Program (Program) objectives, the Ludington and Marquette Biological stations have been collaborating since the early 1960s. Early projects focused heavily on installation and operation of electrical and mechanical barriers and the application of selective pesticides (3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol (TFM) and Niclosamide).

Collaboration between the stations continues today with the most recent project focused on installing a permanent TFM delivery system on the Grand River (Ohio). The Grand River is a major contributor of sea lampreys to Lake Erie, requiring treatment every three to four years. The Harpersfield Dam, which was reconstructed in 2021, prevents adult sea lamprey from migrating further upstream. 

With a steel lip installed across the face of the dam, staff worked together to engineer and design a TFM delivery system that would be permanently affixed to the lip which would provide a more thorough and efficient mix of TFM within the water column and decrease nontarget morality directly below the application.   

Technicians and biologists from both stations collaborated in fabricating 330 feet of steel pipe with holes drilled every 20 feet to spread TFM along the entire length of Harpersfield Dam. Once the delivery system was tested by spreading water across the Ludington Biological Station’s parking lot, staff from both stations worked side-by-side to install the pipe during low discharge in July. The Ludington Biological Station looks forward to utilizing the TFM delivery system during the next treatment, tentatively scheduled for spring 2025.

By coordinating efforts, the two stations can not only spread the distance, but also deliver a more effective Program in the protection and management of a $7 billion Great Lakes fishery.  

Above: Fish Biologist Sam Hultberg installing the bolts into the hanger clip supporting the TFM delivery pipe at the Harpersfield Dam. Credit: Matt Symbal/USFWS

There's Always More to Our Story...

trawl net

Early Life History Sampling for Coregonines

By Adam Kowalski, Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

Coregonids (members of the whitefish family) are among the most valuable commercial fish species in the Great Lakes basin and are the subject of intensive monitoring and fisheries management.  Despite this, the dynamics of coregonid recruitment remain largely understudied and the mechanisms that drive variable recruitment are not well understood.  An independent recruitment index is developed to provide a more complete perspective on the mechanistic drivers of variable recruitment and is needed to address this substantial source of uncertainty for fisheries management.  With current efforts looking to re-establish depleted coregonine stocks this work will aid in identifying current distribution for pre and post re-establishment assessment efforts. 

During the spring of 2022 the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation office conducted nueston net tows in Saginaw Bay, Thunder Bay, and Hammond Bay. Saginaw Bay was divided into four quadrants and 80, five-minute tows were completed over the entire four-quadrant area over a four week period. Thunder Bay was also divided into four quadrants and 100, five-minute tows were completed over a four week period. In all areas sampled the sites were chosen randomly, towing was with the wind, at two miles per hour. This work was completed from early-April to mid-May.  Larval numbers were higher than last year in Saginaw Bay and Thunder Bay.

Above:  Larval net being retrieved on Saginaw Bay during the spring larval survey. Credit: USFWS

brown booby a bird sitting on a post

Boats, Birders and a Brown Booby

By Wes Bouska, La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

On a beautiful morning in early August, our group of Motorboat Operator Certification Course (MOCC) instructors gathered at the boat ramp and chatted about the upcoming day.  Students would be arriving soon to go over their field exercises including the STAR drill, trailering, docking, running the serpentine course, and others skills.  One instructor commented that he had seen a bunch of folks on shore near the serpentine course with big spotting scopes.  This was not an uncommon sight in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Located in a major flyway and surrounded by the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the area is a favorite destination for birders.  We moved on to other discussion topics and when students arrived, we started off on the water.

I had taken my first student through the star drill and as we were waiting for our turn to go through the serpentine course, I noticed a large waterbird hanging out near our boat.  From a distance, the bird resembled a common loon, but upon closer inspection it had a whiteish head and belly, and other unique features.  I commented to the student that I had never seen anything quite like it, and wasn’t really sure what it was.  I brushed off the encounter and kept running students through the skills course.  About 15 minutes later I received a message from the refuge manager Tim Miller.  He informed me that he had received several calls about a rare bird sighting, right near our MOCC course.  It all clicked, and the group of birders on shore with their large spotting scopes made more sense.  The bird I had just puzzled about a few minutes earlier was in fact, a brown booby.  And to say this bird was lost, would be an understatement!

The brown booby is a seabird with a pantropical range. They are found in tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and are known to breed in the Gulf of Mexico and the Carribean.  The poor bird was definitely lost, with this being the first ever sighting of this species in Wisconsin.  Nonetheless, the bird was making itself right at home, and some instructors observed it catching and eating fish.  I snapped a couple pictures and we did our best not to disturb it as we finished our exercises and took down the course.  For the serious birders out there, I heard the booby kept going north, and had last been spotted on the Mississippi River in the Winona, Minnesota area.  Even though I don’t keep a birding life list, I have taken great satisfaction in sharing the encounter with friends, family and coworkers. 

Above: A brown booby, a tropical seabird, was spotted during an MOCC course in Pool 8 of the Mississippi River.  It was the first recorded sighting of the species in the State of Wisconsin. Photo Credit:  Special Thanks to Bruce Bartel

Hine's Emerald Dragonfly larva on white background

2022 Hines Emerald Dragonfly Mid-Season Check

By Beth Glidewell, Genoa National Fish Hatchery

The first week of August was the mid-season check of the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly larvae that are in culture in the "Dragonfly Trailer" at Genoa National Fish Hatchery.  These larvae were eggs that hatched on station in April and May of this year and have been in flow-through mesh screened cages since early June.  The larvae have grown enough since June that they can now be in cages with larger screen sizes (1mm mesh instead of 0.5mm mesh) that will allow greater water flow through the cage.  This increased water flow brings more dissolved oxygen and zooplankton and other small aquatic organisms into each cup for the growing larvae to prey upon. This stage of culture has been very successful this year, with almost 80% survival through small mesh s-cages.

For the mid-season check, each cage was carefully opened by removing the old screen.  Accumulated debris was carefully washed away, revealing the very-well camouflaged larva hidden inside.  After a photo with a scale bar for later measurement, the larva was placed back into its s-cage that had been re-screened with larger mesh.  The larvae will stay in these culture cages until the end of October or early November when the pond water has cooled, marking the end of the growing season.  Then they’ll be checked and measured again and packed up for transport to an overwintering location at the University of South Dakota or another partner facility such as the Urban Stream Research Center at the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County Illinois.  When the larvae are large enough, they’ll be released into the same Northern Wisconsin habitats where their eggs were collected, helping to boost these populations.      

Above: A Hine's Emerald Dragonfly larva ready for measurement during a mid-season check. Credit: Beth Glidewell/USFWS

Fish Tales

Midwest Fisheries Center Hosts Students from Summer STEM Camp

By Mark Fritts, La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

Staff from the Midwest Fisheries Center (MFC) were honored to host a group of 27 middle and high school students enrolled in the “My River Adventure” summer camp hosted by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Multicultural Student Services Center (MSSC). The mission of pre-college programs at the MSSC is “ To serve low-income and multicultural individuals, families and communities while assisting youth to be successful within their schools and their lives.” The outreach efforts of MSSC target and serve African-American, Native American, Latino, and Hmong youth from around the La Crosse area and throughout the state of Wisconsin. The My River Adventure camp gives these students a guided opportunity to explore careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math related to natural resource management. Staff from the Whitney Genetics Laboratory, the La Crosse Fish Health Center, and the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office offered presentations on their work and told stories about their educational and personal backgrounds that led them to careers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Afterwards, the students were offered tours of the MFC and got an opportunity to participate in hands-on fish dissections in the Fish Health Center receiving lab.

 

Alpena FWCO Conducts Fishery Independent Coregonid Survey in Lake Huron

By Adam Kowalski, Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

During May and June, staff from the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) conducted a juvenile coregonid survey in 1836 treaty waters of northern Lake Huron (Alpena north to Hammond Bay) and Saginaw Bay. This study was designed to index juvenile coregonid abundance and collect biological data on juvenile lake whitefish for population models in northern Lake Huron and record presence or absence of cisco.

The nets use for this survey are 12 feet tall two to four inch monofilament mesh suspended net. These suspended nets are designed so they can be set anywhere in the water column. The nets are set at varying heights off the bottom to try and determine where in the water column these juvenile fish hang out. When a juvenile coregonid is caught, ponar grabs are taken along the net and substrate is recorded.

During the survey, Alpena FWCO staff conducted 30 gill net lifts at randomly selected sites in two Lake Huron lake whitefish management units: WFU04 (Hammond Bay to Presque Isle) and WFH05 (Presque Isle to Alpena). Fifteen gill net lifts were completed in Saginaw Bay. Biological data were collected from all coregonids encountered, including length, weight, sex and maturity, visceral fat index, and lamprey wounding. Otoliths were taken for age determination. Similar biological data were collected from non-target species.

Two juvenile and one adult cisco were captured during the survey in Saginaw Bay. Maturity was determined by the size of the ovaries and whether or not the fish would spawn in the fall. All three fish were wrapped in tinfoil to preserve the potential Oxytetracycline (OTC) mark to be viewed at a later date.

 

 

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