What will happen to fisheries nationwide and even to outdoor recreation in general as Asian carp continue to spread, reproduce, and outcompete native species? We’ve just received a glimpse of a nightmarish possibility from Kentucky Lake, where angler Bill Schroeder foul-hooked and landed a 106-pound silver carp.
Although I’ve been unable to confirm it, I suspect that’s the largest silver carp taken in the United States, and possibly even the world. Experts say maximum weight for the exotic fish is about 60 pounds. And even now, the Tennessee state record for the silver carp, caught in 2013 on Kentucky Lake, was just 14 pounds, 13 ounces.
What’s going on? Silver carp like it here. So do bighead carp. Typically a larger fish, its maximum weigh is about 90 pounds. But in 2011, an angler targeting paddlefish hooked and landed a 106-pound specimen at Lake of the Ozarks.
And the exotic lionfish likes it here too. As it spreads all across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast, anglers are catching larger and larger specimens of this voracious predator. In its native range, it grows to 12 to 15 inches. Just a few days ago, one was caught off in the Florida Keys that measured nearly 19 inches.
Why are these exotics growing to horror-movie size proportions in our waters? Because they are exotic species, they have no “natural” predators, as they do in their native ranges. And they’re feasting on an abundance of food in our relatively fertile and healthy waters. By contrast, Asian carp struggle to survive in their native range because of pollution and overfishing.
Will the same happen with the Burmese python in the Everglades? Introduced to the wild by an irresponsible and little-regulated pet industry, it is now gobbling up native mammals and reptiles, and likely will expand its range into more developed areas. Will it grow to unprecedented size as well?
Now consider this: Asian carp are schooling fish. Frightened by disturbances on the surface, silver carp often go airborne, striking and injuring anglers and other boaters.
But the fish we see in videos of these airborne attacks usually weigh no more than 10 or 15 pounds. Imagine dozens of 100-pound silver carp taking flight all around you as you motor to your favorite fishing hole.
Of course, no one thought about such possibilities when the carp were imported by aquaculture facilities during the 1970s. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that we really started worrying about them crowding out native species in our rivers.
And then there’s the snakehead . . .
Twila Gates set a Florida freshwater fishing record earlier this month. Her catch of a 1-pound, 5.6-ounce (1.35 pounds) flier on May 9 from a Jackson County pond beat the old record of 1.24 pounds. It had a length of 12 inches and a girth of 11.8 inches. The previous state record came from Lake Iamonia near Tallahassee, in 1992.
“If Gate’s flier is submitted to the International Game Fish Association, it could also could become the new world record,” said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Anglers from North Carolina and Georgia hold the current world record jointly with a pair of 1-pound, 4-ounce submissions.
Gates has been fishing with her father since she was a little girl and has passed her love of the outdoors on to her son, Jantzen, 15. On the Saturday before Mother’s Day, she was fishing from a johnboat with her son and his friend, William Hinson, at a 15-acre cypress pond. She caught the flier on a Shakespeare micro-spin and 6-pound P-Line, using a white grub beetle-spin, at about 4:30 p.m. Hinson thought it was a record and looked it up online and called the regional office.
Chris Paxton, an FWC fisheries biologist, met her to verify the species and carefully measure and weigh the fish on certified scales.
Fliers are probably one of the lesser-known freshwater fish in Florida. They are native and typically found in somewhat heavily vegetated ponds and backwater sloughs, such as the pond where Gates caught this one.
In addition to the record flier, she caught four other nice-sized fliers and the boys added two 10-pound plus trophy bass.
The FWC has several freshwater angler recognition programs including state records, Big Catch, and TrophyCatch.
State records require a biologist to verify the species and have a certified weight for the notarized application. The FWC maintains records for 33 freshwater species.
Big Catch is a long-standing, family-friendly angler recognition for those same 33 species. It recognizes anglers with a certificate if they qualify by submitting a photo of their catch online and if the catch exceeds specified weights or lengths. There are youth, specialist, master and elite angler awards as well. People can learn more at BigCatchFlorida.com.
TrophyCatch is the newest citizen-science conservation rewards program. By catching, documenting and releasing a largemouth bass heavier than eight pounds anglers earn rewards starting with $100 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards, recycle their catch and provide valuable information for conservation biologists. Anglers should be sure to register at TrophyCatchFlorida.com and read the rules, so they will be ready to document their next trophy bass with a photo of the fish on a scale and submit it for rewards. Just registering enters people in a drawing for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury.
“In one day of fishing, right here in the Fishing Capital of the World, Ms. Gates, her son and his friend were on the verge of qualifying for all three programs ─ and topped it off with a potential world record. That is a happy Mother’s Day weekend for a young lady devoted to her son and the outdoors,” said Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
Officials finally have reached a settlement with the railroad company responsible for a fish kill on the Rock River, one of the best smallmouth rivers in northern Illinois.
The Chicago, Central, and Pacific Railroad (CCPR) will pay $570,000 for alleged pollution violations during an ethanol spill nearly six years ago, as well as restoration of the fishery.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will receive $270,000 to fund rehabilitation of two nature areas and another $$150,000 for general restoration in the affected area.
“This settlement ensures funding is in place to complete efforts to restore the natural areas damaged by the ethanol leak,” said Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Additionally, CCPR will pay $150,000 to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and Winnebago County to settle alleged violations of the state’s Environmental Protection Act.
“This derailment caused significant impacts to the air, land, and water, which required a thorough investigation, substantial research and extensive environmental remediation,” said IEPA Director Lisa Bonnett.
“The coordinated efforts of state agencies have completed the investigation and cleanup of the release. And this final consent order brings closure to one of Illinois’ largest environmental emergencies.”
Since the derailment, CCPR also has worked with IEPA to remediate the contaminated areas.
In June 2009, an explosion and fire following a train derailment killed one person, as well as caused the discharge of up to 75,000 gallons of an ethanol and gasoline mixture. It flowed onto the surrounding land and into a creek which flows into the Kishwaukee River, a tributary of Rock River.
Two days later, Sauk Valley residents noticed large numbers of smallmouth, sunfish, and other species washing up on shore along a 54-mile stretch from Grand Detour to Prophetstown. The fish died of suffocation, as the ethanol breakdown burned up dissolved oxygen.