Tag Archives: captive propagation

Biologist Jess Jones of our Virginia field office just received the Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence. Jess is a national leader in freshwater mussel conservation. Credit: USFWS

Meet a leading scientist in freshwater mussel conservation

Biologist Jess Jones of our Virginia field office just received the Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence. Jess is a national leader in freshwater mussel conservation. Credit: USFWS

Biologist Jess Jones of our Virginia field office just received the 2013 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence. Jess is a national leader in freshwater mussel conservation. Credit: USFWS

You’ve heard us say this many times…Freshwater mussels are not rocks. They’re way more than just shells covering river bottoms. Mussel populations tell us if the river is healthy, meaning it is a good resource for drinking water, for fishing, and for waterfowl and other species.

Now, here’s something even more incredible than mussels’ crazy names (like Appalachian monkeyface pearlymussel) or their amazing skills for tricking fish. There are more types of freshwater mussels in Virginia and Tennessee’s Powell River than in all of Europe. Their existence there has been threatened many times–including by two large oil spills that caused the loss of much habitat.

This is where Jess Jones steps in. Jess is a national leader in freshwater mussel conservation and restoration. Recipient of the 2013 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence, Jess works with the latest technology to breed and raise juvenile mussels at Virginia Tech’s Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Center for release in the Clinch and Powell rivers. He’s based out of our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in eastern Virginia.

How incredible is his work?

  • After one of Virginia’s most catastrophic spills destroyed one of the last remaining populations of the endangered tan riffleshell, Jess worked with other agencies to release more than 26,000 mussel larvae (glochidia) and juvenile mussels to augment the 100 adult tan riffleshells that remained.
  • The laboratory Jess oversees has successfully reared thousands of juvenile endangered oyster mussels to breeding age (4 years) and has recently documented that these mussels are reproducing in captivity.
  • Jess and his partners have released hundreds of thousands of hatchery-reared mussels to restore one of the nation’s most biologically diverse ecosystems. In 2010, his team released 2,500 endangered oyster mussels.
  • Through his novel monitoring methodologies, Jess has confirmed that survival and growth rates for propagated and released mussels at multiple sites are very similar to natural rates in the sections of the same rivers not affected by the spills.

Breeding mussels and supporting populations that will survive into the future are no simple tasks. The freshwater mussel life cycle is one of the most complex in the animal world (check out our video on it). They face incredible challenges for survival, as the quality of their stream and river homes is affected by land use, industries, climate change and invasive species.

We couldn’t be more appreciative of Jess’ scientific expertise and dedication for conserving and restoring the incredible diversity of Virginia’s waters — and contributing to the health and well-being of wildlife and people. Congratulations, Jess!

Jess took his passion for mussel conservation abroad to China — check out his blog from the trip!

Juvenile lake sturgeon raised at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin. Credit: USFWS

Sturgeon stocking success!

Juvenile lake sturgeon raised at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin. Credit: USFWS

Juvenile lake sturgeon raised at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin. Credit: USFWS

I'm Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You'll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York. USFWS photo with Bethany holding a bog turtle

I’m Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You’ll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York.

Cold weather, cloudy skies and chilling winds didn’t shake the spirit of fish enthusiasts at the Greenbelt Park Boat Launch in Ogdensburg, N.Y., last Tuesday.

The launch was packed with reporters, interested locals, several resource agencies, and 11,000 juvenile lake sturgeon ready to be released into the wild. All were present for the annual sturgeon stocking, a program led by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) with supportive funding from the State of New York and our agency’s Fish Enhancement, Mitigation, and Research Fund.

You could feel the heightened excitement as hatchery trucks from pulled into the boat launch parking lot: the end to a 1,000-mile journey from the Service’s fish hatchery in Wisconsin, where all 11,000 sturgeon were raised. Reporters were busy talking to biologists, spectators were busy snapping pictures, and the truck drivers were busy prepping the fish and the nets for the release.

The Service's Genoa National Fish Hatchery truck and NYSDEC Oneida Fish Hatchery truck. The trucks had 3 or 6 compartments that are like giant coolers with thousands of fingerlings in them. Credit: USFWS

The Service’s Genoa National Fish Hatchery truck and NYSDEC Oneida Fish Hatchery truck. The trucks had 3 or 6 compartments that are like giant coolers with thousands of fingerlings in them. Credit: USFWS

Biologists started by transferring approximately 3,000 fingerlings from the Service’s truck to the NYSDEC Chateaugay Fish Hatchery truck. One by one, biologists would scoop a large net (capable of holding 300-500 fingerlings) into the giant coolers holding hundreds of gallons of water and thousands of fish, and transfer them to a cooler on the other truck.

From here, the NYSDEC truck would travel to six other locations on three separate rivers while our truck would release 7,000 fingerlings, net by net, into the St. Lawrence River at the boat launch. Additional fish were raised at the NYSDEC Oneida Fish Hatchery in Constantia, N.Y., and were released in Cayuga Lake and the Genesee River in mid-October.

From Ogdensburg, the Genoa National Fish Hatchery truck stopped at the St. Lawrence Power Project in Massena and released the remaining 500 fingerlings below the dam.

The Service's Genoa National Fish Hatchery truck at the St. Lawrence Power Project in Massena, N.Y. Photo Credit: Tom Brooking

The Service’s Genoa National Fish Hatchery truck at the St. Lawrence Power Project in Massena, N.Y. Photo Credit: Tom Brooking

The NYSDEC hatchery truck left Ogdensburg and traveled to the Pine Ridge Campground in Constable, N.Y., where another 500 sturgeon fingerlings were released in the Salmon River.

Students from the Akwesasne Freedom School were present at the site to help with the release and receive a hands-on lesson about lake sturgeon.

Students were able to hold the fingerlings in a touch tank set up at the site, and also help biologists with weight and length measurements for several fingerlings.


After leaving the Pine Ridge Campground, the NYSDEC truck made another stop along Route 37 in Fort Covington to release an additional 500 fingerlings in the Salmon River. From there, the truck traveled to Brasher Falls and Brasher Center to release 1,000 fingerlings at 2 locations on the St. Regis River. Next, the NYSDEC hatchery truck drove to Raymondville and finally reached the end of its journey in Massena Springs to release another 1,000 fingerlings at 2 locations on the Raquette River.

One of our biologists, Scott Schlueter, releasing sturgeon in the Raquette River in Massena Springs. Credit: USFWS

One of our biologists, Scott Schlueter, releasing sturgeon in the Raquette River in Massena Springs. Credit: USFWS

The fingerlings were four months old and measured approximately 4-6 inches in length. I was amazed to see how calm the fingerlings were when handled; they would allow you to pick them up and hold them without much resistance. The intimidating sharp-looking bony scutes on their backs weren’t sharp at all, but instead provide the juveniles with great defense against predators, boosting their survivorship rate.

Sturgeon have a hard, spiny exterior, but their bony scutes along the top and sides of their skin are not as sharp as they appear. This protects them from predators as they feed on the bottom of the river. Credit: USFWS

Sturgeon have a hard, spiny exterior, but their bony scutes along the top and sides of their skin are not as sharp as they appear. This protects them from predators as they feed on the bottom of the river. Credit: USFWS

The sturgeon stocking program has proven to be extremely effective, as we are just starting to find young wild sturgeon in stocked areas, a sign that indicates successful reproduction of stocked fish in past years. With continued commitment from resource agencies in stocking efforts, we can hope to see more of this prehistoric species in New York waterways as the program continues.

From left to right: Doug Aloise (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Don Meisner (FISHCAP), Scott Schlueter (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and Douglas Carlson (NYSDEC). Credit: USFWS

From left to right: Doug Aloise (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Don Meisner (FISHCAP), Scott Schlueter (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and Douglas Carlson (NYSDEC). Credit: USFWS