Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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UMNWFR McGregor District Refuge and Genoa Hatchery Team up for Mussel Conservation
Midwest Region, June 18, 2014
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Genoa mussel team placing cages
Genoa mussel team placing cages - Photo Credit: FWS photo
floating mussel cage array in refuge pond
floating mussel cage array in refuge pond - Photo Credit: FWS photo

Working alongside the mighty Mississippi has its advantages if you are in the aquatics field. For the Genoa National Fish Hatchery it can provide a source of fish and mussels to use in aquatic resource conservation efforts. In our neck of the woods, it also means that we are included within the boundaries of one of the country's largest conservation projects, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge(UMWFR).

The benefits to this became evident to us when McGregor District refuge project leader Rich King, and Lisa Maas, refuge biologist approached the hatchery with an offer to use abandoned National Fish Hatchery ponds located on the Refuge to further mussel conservation. Mussel conservation is also a goal of the UMWFR, with some of the country's largest mussel populations located in the Upper Mississippi River basin. Threats to this fauna are very real, however. Currently, in the Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio) more than half of the 78 known species are classified as Federally endangered, threatened or State species of special concern. No other group of animals in the Midwest is so gravely imperiled.

So it seems only natural for branches with similar conservation goals within the same agency would team up to conserve this valuable fauna. Years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operated a federal fish hatchery in the floodplain in Guttenburg, Iowa adjacent to Lock and Dam 11. These ponds were released to the refuge system when the hatchery closed in the 1970s. They were being used as moist soil units for the past 30 years until a very real need surfaced with the birth of mussel propagation as a recovery tool in the Upper Mississippi River basin.

Mussel propagation to recover endangered species began in the early 2000s at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery, and localized increases in endangered mussels are being witnessed in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. Hatchery ponds that are supplied by river water would seem to be ideal for mussel propagation using the current method of caging host fish in somewhat still waters that have a productive water supply as a mussel food source. Nathan Eckert, our hatchery mussel biologist, is very excited to research this site as it appears to have the makings for a successful cage site. This spring the ponds were also stocked with transferred adult freshwater drum obtained directly from the Mississippi River in attempts to create a fingerling drum yearclass to use as mussel hosts.

We look forward to continue working with the UMWFR with these and other unique projects in order to further aquatic species conservation in the Upper Mississippi basin.

Contact Info: Doug Aloisi, 608-689-2605, Doug_Aloisi@fws.gov
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