BY NATHAN ECKERT, GENOA NFH
SUPSY isn’t a slang term or text lingo. It’s an acronym standing for "suspended upwelling system." The SUPSY is a chamber made from small buckets which is suspended in a pond and used for the culture of freshwater mussels.
The SUPSY was developed by mussel culture biologists with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Air from a compressor is bubbled into the chamber creating a flow of water through the chamber which brings the freshwater mussels oxygen and food. Biologists in Alabama have been quite successful raising freshwater mussels up to a size large enough to tag and release using this method.
This summer Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) in Wisconsin is partnering with the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium to test the SUPSY method in the Dubuque, Iowa Ice Harbor just off the Mississippi River. Our hope is that this technique will lead to increased mussel growth and improved production capacity over culture methods currently being used at the hatchery. The initial test includes eight SUPSY buckets, each stocked with 250 yearling mussels. The mussels were measured and placed on May 21st. The plan is to take measurements and pictures on a monthly basis to observe mussel growth and to check for mortality.
Currently Genoa NFH has more yearling mussels on hand than are feasible to culture on-station. This partnership will allow us to spread out the load. In addition to helping the hatchery, staff at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium plan to incorporate local students into the SUPSY cleaning and data collection. This project will benefit both the hatchery and the museum all while providing an opportunity for some students to participate in freshwater mussel conservation.
BY AMBER MASTERS, COLUMBIA FWCO
It was all hands on deck for the fisheries crews at the Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) during their annual broodstock efforts. For two weeks in early spring, the Pallid Sturgeon crew embarked on a challenging quest to find the biggest and most beautiful wild Pallid Sturgeon in the lower Missouri River- and the small crew needed a few extra crewmates.
The Neosho National Fish Hatchery and Blind Pony State Fish Hatchery raise endangered Pallid Sturgeon to be stocked into the lower Missouri River. In order to be successful, the hatchery needs broodstock- or parent fish- for the thousands of Pallid Sturgeon reared there annually. A Pallid Sturgeon must meet a number of criteria before being used as broodstock. He or she must be wild (not hatchery-reared), healthy, reproductively viable, genetically pure (not a hybrid), and cannot have been used as broodstock previously. This is to avoid genetic bottlenecks and interspecies hybridizations that can cripple or destroy wild populations. Every year, the Columbia FWCO intensively searches the Missouri River, hoping to capture fish that fit the high standards to qualify as broodstock.
Broodstock season means long, difficult days for everyone on the Pallid crew. Before the season began, crew members were already working to recruit helping hands. Posters designed, calls made, emails disseminated- within a few days the schedule filled up with eager volunteers. Up to four people per day were able to join a broodstock crew for trot-lining on the Missouri River. Many were regular fishermen, who have spent years fishing on the Missouri River; others were first-timers who got their first boating adventure with the Columbia FWCO. Neither the old hats nor the newbies had ever before seen the rare and elusive Pallid Sturgeon- all were thrilled at the chance.
The Pallid crew was able to set over 4,600 hooks and capture over 30 Pallid Sturgeon this year, thanks to the help of 20 ambitious volunteers who put in a total of 148 hours of work for the Columbia FWCO. The crews were lucky, each of the volunteers was able to see and handle at least one Pallid Sturgeon as well as other rare species such as Lake Sturgeon. In addition, volunteers helped with plenty of Shovelnose Sturgeon, large Blue Catfish, Freshwater Drum and the occasional Chestnut Lamprey. The majority of the Pallid Sturgeon were hatchery raised and none of them were up to the strict broodstock standards; however, it is crucial that the success of released hatchery raised Pallid Sturgeon is monitored and it was an excellent opportunity to educate the public on the importance of programs like the Pallid Sturgeon Population Assessment and Monitoring Program and the Columbia FWCO.
Even though the weather was dismally cold, drearily rainy and bitterly windy, the volunteers were radiating excitement and energy throughout the day. The feeling was contagious to even the curmudgeonliest of the Pallid crew, and everyone aboard the boats had a great time. The work was exhausting to the Columbia FWCO crew, but exhilarating to the volunteers. For those whose daily grind is to pull in heavy nets, handle hundreds of fish and work through rain, snow, heat and sun- the joy of the volunteers was a refreshing reminder of how fun working on the river can be. The volunteers brought relief from long hours and hard work, insightful and thoughtful questions, opportunities to educate and share important information about Missouri River conservation issues and a cheery attitude to the cause for two weeks. The Columbia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office is grateful for all their hard work!