Hey readers! This month I’ve been continuing my volunteer efforts as an AIS Detector through MAIRSC (Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center) for my Conservation Champions project funded by Como Friends. I need to complete a minimum of 25 hours this year and as of this month I’ve done 10.5 hours!
This month I’ve been participating in two different projects that both happen to be focused on fish. As an AIS Detector, I can see what opportunities are available through our online portal and via email. I wanted to work on projects that don’t require me to buy things (i.e. waders) and are nearby (i.e. in the Twin Cities). The two projects that met those requirements are angler surveys and carp research.
The first project that I’ve been helping with is a research project through MAISRC entitled “What’s in YOUR Bucket? Quantifying AIS Introduction Risk from Baitfish”. I was specifically recruited to help with the Angler Survey portion of the research project. The details can be seen below:
I’m this part right here….
What that means is that got a schnazzy UMN hat, a lanyard ID, a clipboard with instructions, and a giant stack of surveys to administer. Through email communication I received information on how to administer my 100 surveys to people out fishing on public docks. From there, I choose which days and which public lakes in the metro area to distribute my surveys. Here I am ready to go in my new gear:
In general, this project has been easy for me because I survey visitors as a part of my regular job at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. The only challenging part has been to find people out fishing! I’ve been out for a couple of hours so far and I’ve only distributed 19 out of my 100 surveys. However, everyone has been really friendly and been willing to do the survey once I ask them. Yay for Minnesota Nice! I’m enjoying this project. It’s not a bad way to enjoy a view like the one below on a summer night while contributing to AIS research.
The second project I’ve started working on is common carp biocontrol research through MAIRSC. MAISRC has a great video that explains the project and its importance:
One part of the project is to catch fish from Minnesota lakes to bring back to the lab and remove certain organs to test for different things related to koi herpes virus (KHV). Last week the research team caught around 160 fish and put them in coolers on ice to bring back to the UMN campus lab. They needed to dissect all of them quickly, which is where I came in!
Preface: I have NEVER dissected a fish before in my life. My previous related experience included frog dissection in high school biology and fishing a few times as a young child. So, I’ve held a fish before in my hands maybe like 15 years ago, but I’ve definitely never cut one open and identified anything. Below I’ll go more in depth on what it was like and include some dissection photos – so WARNING if you don’t want to see bloody fish pieces.
I helped Isaiah (shown in the MAIRSC video) and other volunteers dissect fish to remove the desired organs. We had big plastic trays to contain the blood and guts, tools for dissection like saws and tweezers, and gloves and lab coats to stay relatively clean. Step 1 is to pick up a giant dead carp, wipe the ice off it, and put it on your tray. Next, we recorded the weight and length of the fish as seen below.
Now the fun part! After watching Isaiah do it and with his constant support during the process, we cut the fish open and removed the kidney and spleen. Most of the time that part was not too bad. Occasionally the spleen was difficult to find in the middle of all the other organs, but the kidney was usually really easy because it’s right at the top of the fish. Then, we removed a piece of the gill which was also pretty straightforward. Next was to saw the fish’s head off which was a little gross and honestly exhausting! From there we dissected inside the head to remove the brain. The hardest part was last in which we tried to gently remove these tiny ear bones called otoliths. They are tiny white bones that are smaller than my pinky fingernail which can be used to age the fish! The removed organs and pieces were put into labeled bags and put back on ice as seen below. From left to right this picture shows fish brains, gills, and kidneys/spleens.
Overall this project was AWESOME. I’ve never dissected a fish before, and I loved it. I got to work in the actual lab with Isaiah and talk to him about the project. I also felt the importance of my contribution. There were 160 fish they needed to dissect. There were six people dissecting in the lab that day and we only got through about 30 fish in two hours. They really appreciated my extra help and I had a lot of fun doing it!
These are just two of the projects that the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center is currently working on. I’ve felt so fortunate to be a part of these projects and contribute to this important work going on right here in Minnesota. It takes a lot of time and effort to get the data we need to make decisions regarding AIS management. I joined the AIS Detectors program to show that anyone from any background can contribute, and this month I really have been able to do that. I’m so thankful for this opportunity and can’t wait for what’s next.
There are some upcoming opportunities that you can participate in as well:
- If you’ve been reading my blog and are interested in getting outside and contributing to AIS research, sign up to participate in StarryTrek through MAIRSC! On Saturday August 17th from 8:30AM – 1:00PM there will be different sites around the state of MN where you can help search for starry stonewort (AIS). Read more at https://www.maisrc.umn.edu/get-involved/starrytrek and register online!
- Minnesota State Fair!
- Come by and chat about AIS at the Minnesota State Fair! There will be volunteers in the DNR building every day including a few hours by me!
- More about carp biocontrol research:
- Angler Survey research: https://www.maisrc.umn.edu/sites/maisrc.umn.edu/files/whats_in_your_bucket.pdf
– Alexa, Learning Experiences Specialist