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Entries in Asian carp (153)

Monday
May302016

You Think Asian Carp Are a Problem? Look at What the Feds Almost Put in Our Waters

If you think that we’ve made a mess of our lands and waters through intentional and unintentional import of exotic plants and animals, you are correct. For example, we now spend billions of dollars annually to control and mitigate the damage done by just four recently introduced species: bighead carp, silver carp, quagga mussel, and zebra mussel.

And in attempts to minimize problems, the government often has made them worse. During the 1940s, the state of Louisiana touted the South American nutria as a way to control water hyacinth, a fast-growing exotic that was crowding out native vegetation in wetlands. Today, the nutria is eating away those same wetlands, contributing to saltwater intrusion and coastal erosion.

In the early 1960s, the states of Alabama and Arkansas allowed import of grass carp to control aquatic vegetation in aquaculture ponds. By 1970, escapees had established populations in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Today, these troublesome grazers are established in at least nine states and have been sighted in more than 40. Ask just about any bass angler, and he will tell you that the grass carp is public enemy No. 1.

And speaking of carp, we have the federal government to thank for one of the worst management decisions ever in regard to our fisheries. In 1877, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries began intensively cultivating and stocking common carp. In fairness, it was prompted to do so both by public pressure and by overharvest of native fish stocks. By the turn of the century, however, it already was regarded as a nuisance.

“Moreover, their rapid spread appeared to threaten both water quality and native species, as commissioners nationwide noted a deterioration of formerly clear and fertile lakes and waterways upon the arrival of carp,” says the National Park Service.

But you don’t know the half of it. Actually, things could be worse. Much worse. Instead of nutria eating away those Louisiana wetlands, we could have hippos. And who’s to say that these massive “water horses” which can weigh up to 4 tons and eat up to 100 pounds of vegetation a day, wouldn’t have spread east, west, and north?

They are “relatively tolerant of cold conditions,” says the Glen Oak Zoo, which also points out that “many individuals live to 40 years.”

Oh yeah, they also are generally believed to have killed more people in their native Africa than another animal, including lions and crocodiles.

All things considered, I’ll take the nutria, thank you. It tops out at about 12 pounds and is not as likely to charge me at the launch ramp.

But in 1910, Frederick Russell Burnham, a famed American scout and world adventurer, proposed replacing our nation’s depleted wildlife population --- we had hunted deer, turkey, and buffalo nearly to extinction --- with animals that he had encountered in southern Africa.

His proposal lined up nicely with the search for a solution to the growing problem of water hyacinths in Louisiana waters, as well as America’s need for more meat. Writing about this little known piece of American history, Jon Mooallem in American Hippopotamus, says that Rep. of Robert Foligny of New Iberia “liked to plug up problems with big solutions.”

Thus, Foligny introduced H.R. 23261, also known as the “Hippo Bill,” to “appropriate $250,000 for the importation of useful new animals into the United States.” The Washington Post assured readers that they would see shipments of hippos within a few years.

Fortunately for all us, a boatload of hippos never docked in New Orleans. But it wasn’t because of the unexpected discovery of good judgment in Congress. Rather, one representative said that the beasts should not be introduced because unscrupulous hunters would sneak onto the farms and hunt them for trophies.

Yeah, that’s the reason not to import aggressive animals that boast 20-inch teeth and can run at speeds of more than 20 miles per hour.

What turned the tide, though, was that the Department of Agriculture decided to transform swamps and other undeveloped areas into agricultural land to grow more beef cattle.

Thank goodness. Otherwise, we might we watching “Hippo Die-Nasty” instead of “Duck Dynasty” on television.

Thursday
Jan212016

Not All Hunters, Anglers Are Conservationists. Are You?

As anglers and hunters, we like to pat ourselves on our collective back about what great conservationists we are. We do that  because state fish and wildlife management is funded primarily by license fees and the excise taxes that we pay on the fishing and hunting equipment we buy. Those hundreds of millions of dollars annually benefit all species, not just those we like to catch and hunt.

But contributing to conservation is not the same as being a conservationist.

That realization came to me recently when I saw a post from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) on its Facebook page, thanking those whose comments "led to a vote to oppose the release of wolves in Colorado."

I also saw other comments that leave no doubt that many hunters want the elk for themselves.  Here's just one: "I hate wolves and I hate the people who love them, too."

Additionally, I saw  the above poster, explaining "why hunting is conservation."

No it's not. Hunters and anglers contribute to conservation. And, yes, some of them are conservationists, including me. I write about my conservation lifestyle in "I Am a Steward," an essay in Why We Fish.

Also, elk, bison, whitetail, and turkey all are thriving once again because of financial contributions made by hunters, through license fees, excise taxes, and great organizations like RMEF and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

But many hunters are not conservationists. They are hunters. Period. And, like selfish children, they don't want to share.

That's what prompted me to leave this comment on the RMEF Facebook page:

"RMEF has done great things to bring back the elk, and I am grateful for that. But I do wonder how large the elk population was long before 1907, before greedy commercial hunters nearly wiped them out, along with bison and wolves.

"And I am troubled by the anti-wolf rhetoric here. Those who want the elk back but not the wolves are not conservationists. Rather, they are not a whole lot different than those commercial hunters who didn't want to share either. They wanted all the elk for themselves.

"Wolves are just as much a part of the wilderness as elk and to deny them that place is not conservation. It's game management for the benefit of hunters, who, like other predator species, do not want competition.

"With proper management, we can have both species and a wilderness that once again is truly wild."

I don't want to leave anglers out of this sermon either.  Yes, many practice catch-and-release, and, most times, that's good conservation. But for some, it also leads to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. In other words, the logic goes, "If the fish swims away, then I've done my part."

Never mind that far too many fish die of delayed mortality because of mistreatment prior to release.

And whether you hunt or fish, you should leave the places you frequent better than how you found them if you call yourself a conservationist. Pack out not just your own trash, but that left behind by others.

Respect the land and water, as well as all of the fish and animals that live there, recognizing that each is a integral part of the natural system. Asian carp, Burmese pythons, and other harmful exotic species are notable exceptions. Introduced into  systems with no natural limits on their numbers, they destroy the balance, just as commercial hunters did more than a century ago.

Wednesday
Nov042015

Asian Carp Already Damaging Fisheries

Leaping silver carp on Illinois River. Photo by Nerissa McClelland, Illinois Department of Natural ResourcesMost bass anglers realize that Asian carp pose a threat to the nation's sport fisheries. But they know that because of what they have read and heard, not because of what they've seen and experienced. For them, the danger is theoretical, especially since most of the focus has been on possible consequences to the Great Lakes  if/when these large and prolific exotics gain entrance there.

Bighead and silver carp, however, already are damaging bass fisheries and showing up in frightening numbers in others. In southern Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the invasion has begun and casualties are mounting.

"Once you needed 12 to 20 pounds to win a tournament on the Kaskaskia (Mississippi River tributary south of St. Louis)," said Rick Brynes, who runs the Angler's Choice Tournament Trail. "But now that's gone, and we're starting to see the same thing on the Smithland Pool (Ohio River). During the past three to four years, the weights have dropped dramatically.

"It's a crisis, and not enough anglers see it," added the Illinois fisherman who has been pressing officials and agencies for action and sounding the alarm to everyone who will listen. "We're going to lose our fisheries. It's just going to take longer in some places than others."

Juvenile Asian carp. Photo by Ben DuncanIn Kentucky, guide Jim Perry said that "zillions" of young-of-the-year carp are showing up along the shorelines below both Kentucky and Barkley dams. "Plus there are schools of them above those dams all around the intakes, where the water goes down to the generators," he added.

Steve McCadams, another guide, added crappie anglers are worried about carp eating up all of the zooplankton and algae that young-of-the-year typically feed on. "Our overall crappie fishery has experienced some declines the last few years as to catch rates and recruitment," he said.

Kentucky fisheries chief Ron Brooks pointed out that little data exists regarding the impacts of Asian carp on native species.  "We have ancillary information concerning their effect on paddlefish," he said, adding that Illinois has evidence of harmful impacts to buffalo, and pelagic sport fish, such as sauger, in the Illinois River.

"We also are seeing fewer shad and skipjack in our tailwaters in western Kentucky," the fisheries chief said. "The real problem with measuring impacts of Asian carp in fertile waters is that they may be very subtle until a certain point of density is reached when a system is finally depleted, or nearly depleted, of algal and invertebrate forage. We are hoping to avoid reaching that threshold."

Arguably thresholds already have been reached on portions of the Missouri and Illinois Rivers, where net sampling has revealed Asian carp now comprise more than 95 percent of the biomass. In other words, those waters contain less than 5 percent native species by weight. Notorious for leaping when frightened, the silver carp also has made boating hazardous in these places, especially in the Illinois River below Peoria.

Riverine fish in their native China, silver and bighead carp spread in every direction after escaping Mississippi Delta aquaculture facilities because of flooding during the 1970s. Prolific, voracious, and fast-growing, they overwhelmed those Midwest waters first. They did so by gobbling up phytoplankton and zooplankton, which is critical forage not just for shad, paddlefish, and buffalo, but for fry of sport fish, including crappie and bass.

"Between 1994 and 1997 commercial catches of bighead carp in the Mississippi River increased from 5.5 tons to 55 tons," reported the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. "Today, commercial fishers in the Illinois River regularly catch up to 25,000 pounds of bighead and silver carp per day.

Asian carp harvested from Kentucky Lake. Photo by Jim PerryAnd while most attention was focused on the fear that the invaders might migrate into the Great Lakes via a manmade connection between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, they quietly pushed east into the Ohio. That gave them entrance to the Tennessee River and Kentucky Lake, as well as Lake Barkley and the Cumberland system. Now, their numbers are exploding in those reservoirs, even as they have been found as far up the Cumberland as Old Hickory and as far up the Tennessee as Watts Bar.

"Personally, I think it's too late to fully save the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The quantity of carp in both those rivers is unimaginable, although, sustained fishing does help," said Ben Duncan, a commercial fisherman, as well as high school mathematics teacher. "If we don't start soon, the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers will soon follow."

Duncan added that he already sees how native fish have changed their behavior because of the carp invasion. "I think it's even influenced the crappie population and spawn on Kentucky Lake," he said. "Commercially, we catch way fewer fish in the bays than we did seven to eight years ago, especially buffalo, a fish that competes with Asians for food."         

Even more concerning, they are growing to sizes never before seen, even in their native China. Earlier this year, Bill Shroeder foul-hooked and landed a 106-pound silver carp in Kentucky Lake. Fisheries experts say the maximum weight for that species should be about 60 pounds.

What's being done to protect sport fisheries in these imperiled waters? Not enough, stressed Byrnes, who has pressed the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies to explain why they are not more aggressively exploring and implementing strategies to manage Asian carp.

"Things could be done to eradicate them that are not being done," he said, adding that lack of funding seems a contributing factor.

"We're 25 years into this, and we need some action now," the Illinois angler said. "Asian carp can take over and change our fisheries forever."

Science

While resource agencies aren't responding to the Asian carp threat as quickly as some would like, they are working on control methods, according to Michael Hoff with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It is unlikely, in my experience, that any technology will be the end all," he said. "That is why we, in the U.S. agencies, are researching and developing a variety of containment and control technologies that are feasible now, and may be implemented within the next few years."

Any strategies, he added, must take into account "a variety of scientific, social, political, and environmental constraints."

Genetic modification is one option. It would require stocking hundreds of thousands of altered carp to breed with the existing population to cause reproductive failure, reduced fertility, or ineffective recruitment. But concerns about  the effects of genetically modified animals on the environment and humans makes this option less likely. Variations that do not require modification of the nuclear genome also are being explored, but they likely would work only where densities are low.

Distribution of "microparticles" that only silver and bighead carp would eat seems a more likely strategy.

"Those microparticles are being developed to kill only Asian carp," Hoff said. "I am hopeful that the microparticle technology will be approved for use within the next several years."

Photo by Nerissa McClelland

Harvest

As research continues on methods to control Asian carp populations, Kentucky and Tennessee have followed the lead of Illinois in promoting commercial harvest. The mild-flavored fish is highly prized for food in Asian, and slowly is growing in popularity in the United States. Additionally, meal made from carp can be used in livestock food, as well as fertilizers.

Kentucky fisheries chief Ron Brooks said that Riverine Fisheries International, LLC has retrofitted a salmon processing ship to accommodate carp and now is towing it to his state from New Orleans. "The owner has a very aggressive plan of attack concerning fishing the carp and expects to eventually haul in about 150,000 pounds of Asian carp daily," he said, adding that he knows of at least two other processors.

"The good thing about the larger companies is their interest in Asian carp in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes," Brooks added. "The carp grow faster and are more robust in those reservoirs than they are in the rivers. They pose immediate threats not only to the fisheries, but boaters as well."

Tennessee, meanwhile has no major processors as of yet, but the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) "proposes to use commercial fishing methods to remove large volumes of bighead and silver carp in established populations such as Kentucky, Barkley, and Cheatham Lakes."

First, a few carp will be caught and then tagged.

"Silver carp tend to stay in large groups so biologists could track the tagged fish to larger groups of silver carp," it said. "Biologists or commercial fishermen could then set nets in areas of known silver carp concentrations and remove them."

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Thursday
Oct292015

National Policy Needed to Help Stop Spread of Grass Carp

This grass carp was illegally stocked in a lake where it wasn't needed, and the health of the fishery has suffered as a consequence. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Although grass carp have been found in every one of the Great Lakes except Superior, resource managers don’t believe that the exotic fish have established a self-sustaining population.

But the Mississippi Interstate Resource Association (MICRA) recently warned that “state grass carp regulations are varied and inconsistent, and a national policy strategy is needed to effectively minimize the risks of additional fertile and sterile grass carp introductions into the Great Lakes.”

MICRA reached that conclusion as result of a study funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to look at grass carp use, production, and regulations. It also made recommendations to help minimize risk not only to the Great Lakes, but other waters not yet infested by unintentional introductions of this aquatic invader.

Those recommendations include the following:

  • Production, shipment, stocking, import, and export of diploid (fertile) grass carp should be prohibited except by licensed facilities.
  • States that allow production of triploid (sterile) grass should develop a set of minimum standards, permit requirements, and recordkeeping for diploid broodstock.
  • States that allow importation of triploid carp should adopt consistent regulations that allow only FWS-certified fish.  Also, increase random inspections and enforcement of regulations in these states.
  • FWS should work with states, producers, and other partners to develop testing procedures for quality controls and law enforcement in support of random inspections.

Grass carp, a species of Asian carp, were first imported into the U.S. in 1963 as a tool to manage nuisance aquatic vegetation, including exotic hydrilla, in ponds and impoundments. But flooding allowed many to escape into rivers and streams and, by 1970, they were reported in the Mississippi River basin.

Monday
Sep072015

Asian Carp Spawn Raises Threat for Barkley, Kentucky Lake Sport Fisheries

Can an Asian carp invasion destroy a world-class sport fishery? We're about to find out. And, no, it won't be in the Great Lakes.

Ground Zero will be Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, where anglers and commercial fishermen now are seeing millions and millions of young-of-the year silver carp.

Commercial fisherman Ben Duncan sent me these photos that he recently took at Boswell Bay, where he caught about 500 of them.

"I've seen similar schools in Cypress Bay, Eagle Creek, and Blood River," he said. "My conjecture is this year's mid-summer flood has made the 2015 spawn one for the record books."

And Paul Rister, a Kentucky fisheries biologist, confirmed that assessment. "Yes, we are aware of the tremendous spawn of Asian carp in the tailwaters and lakes this past spring," he said, adding that the state recently implemented a nickel a pound subsidy to encourage commercial harvest.

He also said that the numbers of carp likely will be far more than commercial fishermen can harvest, especially since nets can capture only larger specimens.

"So, what is the answer?" he continued. "There is not one yet. The good news is that it is still very unlikely that the carp have impacted sport fish in the lakes."

They may have displaced them, though, meaning anglers might find the fishing tougher as they are forced to fish new areas. Also, with so much forage, bass and crappie might be more difficult to catch on artificial baits--- at least immediately after the carp spawn. But within a few months, the fast-growing carp are too large for sport fish to eat.

Those impacts are short term. What's going to happen during the next year? Or five? Will the invasion overwhelm the sport fishery as carp occupy so much water that there's no room for other species?  That's happened in portions of major rivers, including the Missouri and Illinois.

Will commercial fishing contain carp numbers? Will scientists develop a chemical or biological control?

We will just have to wait and see.