Have Drum, Will Travel...
BY NATHAN ECKERT, GENOA NFH
to Genoa NFH. Credit: USFWS
For most anglers the freshwater drum, often called sheephead, is a trash fish. In the mussel restoration world the freshwater drum is a highly prized fish. The freshwater drum is the host for several mussels native to the Upper Mississippi River Watershed, some of which have either regional or national conservation status. The mussel restoration program at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) was asked to propagate two common mussel species, butterfly and pink heelsplitter, as part of a mitigation project. The problem is that the freshwater drum has a reputation for being notoriously difficult to propagate in captivity. Wild collected fish would not be suitable either, because they don’t handle the transition to captivity well, and could have been exposed to mussel larvae in the past. Finding a hatchery with a population of drum was difficult, but after expanding the search several times we found Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma. The Langston University aquaculture extension program has maintained a spawning population of freshwater drum for many years. In late winter they were able to send a sub-sample of fish to the La Crosse Fish Health Center to determine that their population was disease free. After the fish cleared the health certification process the only thing that stood between Genoa NFH and propagating these mussels was over 750 miles of interstate.
A few weeks ago Lloyd Lorenz from our friends group helped me load up one of our fish hauling trucks and we headed south. After a full day of travel we arrived at Langston where a pond full of freshwater drum waited to be harvested. Sunrise saw us seining the pond and loading over 300 large freshwater drum for the long drive home. It is always nerve wrecking hauling sensitive fish over a long distance. This trip was no different, but all the fish arrived alive. We did lose some fish due to handling stress in the subsequent days, but overall the trip was a success and now we’ve got a valuable host to produce mussels for our restoration partners. In the coming week’s two species of freshwater mussel will be propagated and shipped to our restoration partners for culture and release as a result of this long journey.