BRIGHAM — Dave Marshal, John Lyons, Tim Larson and Sue Marcquenski began a lofty goal of assisting an endangered Wisconsin River fish more than a year ago.

As rare as the starhead topminnow are these four private aquatic biologists, all former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources employees, now individuals working with funding from an Alliant Energy grant. They had approval of state agencies, including the DNR, to raise and reintroduce minnows to establish new populations in the Wisconsin River.

While the starhead topminnow would never be a sought-after sport fish, it is endangered and the techniques gained in the research could save this minnow and be applied to other endangered species recoveries.

“There isn’t a lot of history on the historical distribution of this minnow, but the Prairie du Sac Dam now keeps the fish below the dam,” Lyons said.

Funding for expenses of the small project came from a grant awarded by Alliant Energy. Wisconsin Power and Light, subsidiary of Alliant, owns and runs the Prairie du Sac Dam. Each year Alliant puts money into a mitigation account, which may be applied for by scientists such as these biologists.

Once funded, Marshall, Lyons, Larson and Marcquenski, set out to acquire the necessary permits to collect an endangered fish, get approval for a private hatchery (1/​10-acre pond on Marshall’s property), relocate 50 pairs of minnows from the Lower Wisconsin River to the pond, have them reproduce and then take the offspring back to the Wisconsin River, but in locations above the hydroelectric dam.

Marcquenski was able, as a fish disease specialist, to apply for the fish health certification permits and Larson’s experience in state fish hatcheries was invaluable in setting parameters for the tiny hatchery.

“Normally, work like this might be done by the state, but there is very little money available,” Marshall said. “The DNR was helpful in walking us through the many permit applications.”

The tiny pond hatchery was not without problems of insufficient runoff and winter freeze up, but a well and aerator solved those drawbacks.

With the 50 pairs, reproduction was outstanding and the offspring will be dip-netted and taken to the Wisconsin River and released above the dam.

“The minnows proved easy to raise,” said Lyons, who now has a part-time appointment at UW-Madison.

“I need to keep some snow shoveled off the ice to improve oxygen levels in the water,” Marshall said. “We’ll leave some adults in the pond this fall and do it all over again next spring and summer.”

As with all research of this type, the biologists will survey for the presence of starhead topminnows in their new environment next year, too, as a check on success of the project.

Topminnows are so named because they spend most of their time near the top of the water and they have markings on their tiny heads. Males and females can easily be determine by body markings.

Numerous birds, amphibians and fish prey on this small minnow.

Jerry Davis can be reached at