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Entries in common carp (6)

Wednesday
May172017

A Carp Is Not Just a Carp; Here's the Difference

Many people, including anglers, don't understand that we have several kinds of carp now swimming in our waters, all of them fish from other countries. And all of them problematic in one way or another.

The fish in the top photo is a common carp. It was introduced more than a century ago, with the help of the federal government. It's now in lakes and rivers all over this country, and has degraded water quality in many of them, mostly because it roots on the bottom and stirs up sediment.  State agencies sometimes use a rotenone treatment to wipe out a lake's fishery, primarily because of overpopulation by common carp. When someone says "carp," this is the fish that most people think of.

Grass carp (that's me with an illegally stocked grass carp) were first introduced during the 1960s, to help control aquatic vegetation, mostly exotic milfoil and hydrilla. The problem is that they eat ALL plants, including beneficial native vegetation. Some have escaped and are reproducing in our rivers. More recently, there's concern that they might establish a breeding population in the Great Lakes. They're far too easy to purchase and stock illegally by people who have no idea of the problems that they cause.

Finally, Asian carp. That description applies to both silver (top) and bighead carp. The silver carp is the one that you see so many photos of as it flies through the air. Both are growing larger here than in their native habitat, with bigheads now exceeding 100 pounds. These are the most recent introductions, brought in by fish farmers in the South. They escaped and now are outcompeting native fish for food and habitat in many of our major rivers, most notably, the Missouri, Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio. In some places, they account for more than 95 percent of the biomass. There's concern that they, too, will establish breeding populations in the Great Lakes.

Friday
Oct072016

What You Don't Know About the Common Carp

Bluegill and bullheads got me started. But long before I became a semi-skilled bass angler,  common carp educated me. They pulled drag. They broke line. They made my heart pound and my pulse race. And one of them stole my Johnson spincast outfit as it rested in a forked stick on a creek bank.

As I pursued them, I learned the benefits of subtlety and finesse and the importance of tying good knots. And I gained valuable experience combating  double-digit carp hooked on Wheaties, dough balls, and worms long before I encountered my first five-pound bass on an artificial.

Many anglers who grew up in the Midwest and Mid-South, where common carp are especially common, shared similar experiences, I suspect.

What I didn't know then and what thousands and thousands of still don't know today is that the common carp also has altered, degraded, and even destroyed sport fisheries in every state except Alaska.  They've been in our waters so long that most just think of them as natives, which they are not.

Rather, they are arguably the most destructive aquatic species every introduced into the United States. But, as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) points out, because they have been present in some areas since the first surveys were taken, their impact can't be definitively determined.

Long before political favoritism, poor judgment,  illegal acts, and under-regulated pet and shipping industries led to the introduction and spread of  other exotic fish, including bighead and silver carp, the federal government championed  import of the common carp. A fish native to Asia and Eastern Europe, it had been cultivated as a food fish and water-garden inhabitant for thousands of years.

Pressure on the feds came from immigrants, who could not believe that the waters of their new homeland did not contain carp. Out in California, Julius A. Poppe imported five carp from Germany in 1872, and, four years later, was shipping them by train throughout the country.

"There ought to be one person in every county who would raise choice carp as stock fish to sell to others to fatten for their own tables," he said.

Listening to Poppe and others, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries began to intensively cultivate and distribute carp in 1877, with state fish commissions soon following suit. Additionally, the carp's ability to live and reproduce in most every water condition allowed it to spread on its own as well.

So, what happened?  First, the common carp did not prove to be the popular food and sport fish that it was in Europe and Asia. By the turn of the century, in fact, fishermen saw it supplanting the fish that they preferred to catch and eat. Additionally, both anglers and fisheries managers noted  that formerly clear lakes and ponds where carp had been introduced were turning  muddy.

That's because the common carp is a bottom feeder, not a filter-feeder like silver and bighead carp. It uproots vegetation, as it sucks in mud and other matter, retaining the nutrients it finds, while spitting out the rest. This increases turbidity, which, in turn, reduces the ability of predator fish to see their prey. It also hinders light penetration, which aquatic vegetation requires for growth. Plus, the USGS said, "There is also evidence that common carp prey on the eggs of other fish species."

Now factor in the carp's productivity. A female can lay up to two million eggs during one spawn, and the young can grow as large as eight inches in the first year.

Of course, bottom-feeding carp were not solely to blame for murky water and declining populations of native fish. Their introduction came at a time when we also were oblivious to the impacts that pollution and land-use practices had on our lakes and rivers.  As much as anything, carp simply took advantage of conditions that harmed native species while allowing them to thrive.

Today, state agencies spend millions of dollars annually rehabilitating fisheries that have been overrun with carp. For example, Kansas recently contracted with commercial fishermen to catch and remove them from Milford Reservoir, the largest impoundment in the state.

"Agency officials hope that removing carp from Milford will improve water quality and reduce the potential for blue-green algae blooms, while also providing benefits to sport fish," said Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism."

Yeah, the common carp is a great "starter" fish. But who knows what bounty that I and many others might have enjoyed as kids if our waters had not been invaded and degraded by them.

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

Sunday
Aug212016

Grass Carp Invasion Also Threatens Great Lakes Fisheries

Most don't know one carp from another. All are exotic.The photo above is a 30-pound-plus grass carp illegally stocked in a small lake.

Common carp have been in this country for so long (more than a century) that many think they are native. They are not. They were imported by the federal government. Rooting around on the bottom, they have destroyed and degraded many fisheries.

Fish farms in the South and Mid-South imported Asian carp (bighead and silver), and they escaped into rivers, spreading throughout much of the country. Through filter feeding, they gobble up forage needed by many native species, including juvenile sport species.

Grass carp were imported to eat problematic aquatic plants, including hydrilla and Eurasian watermilfoil, also exotic species. Often they were overstocked. Sometimes. they were stocked where they were not needed. Often they were stocked illegally. And they too have escaped and spread.

To add to the confusion, Canadian media and fisheries officials frequently refer to grass carp as Asian carp.

*    *    *    *

Although silver and bighead are the Asian carp of most concern these days for the Great Lakes and its tributaries,  disturbing discoveries have been made lately regarding a third--- the grass carp.

First, a graduate student at the University of Toledo found eggs in the Sandusky River, which flows into Lake Erie. That confirms the existence of a reproducing population of this fast-growing species, which doesn't compete with native fish, but does obliterate beneficial aquatic vegetation.

Additionally, Canadian commercial fishermen recently netted a grass carp weighing more than 60 pounds from the St. Lawrence River, far above Lake Ontario.

Anthony Ricciardi, a biology professor at McGill University, doesn't think that the river has a reproducing population, but suspects that others are in the St. Lawrence as well.

"We actually thought the Asian carp was confined," added Quebec biologist Michel Legault. "But we know that in recent years the grass carp has been found in a small section of Lake Erie. And last summer, nine grass carp were caught in the Toronto area. This is not good news."

On the Sandusky, meanwhile Toledo researchers intend to learn more about the grass carp spawning there, in hopes of finding a way to minimize it.

"Given the similarities in reproductive strategies, this ongoing research on grass carp spawning may help us minimize the risk of bighead carp and silver carp from establishing a foothold in the Great Lakes, said Patrick Kocovsky, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "What we learn here also might apply to potential control strategies in tributaries to the Mississippi River.

Today, most grass carp used to control invasive aquatic plants are triploid, meaning they can't reproduce. But fertile grass carp are believed to have first escaped from  an aquaculture facility in Arkansas back in the 1960s. They since have migrated throughout the Mississippi River drainage, as well as spread through authorized, illegal, and accidental introductions to 45 of the 50 states.

Monday
Jul252016

Bass or Carp, Which Species Is Smarter?

 

If you're an angler who believes that sometimes you get "outsmarted" by those wily ol' bass, I have some bad news for you.

Carp are even "smarter." That's right.  The bottom feeder disrespected by so many is no dummy.

"From my years of experience in observing bass in the laboratory, I would have to rank them around the middle of the intelligence range: definitely smarter than trout (at least hatchery trout) but dumber than carp (no insult intended — carp are smarter than you think!)," said Dr. Keith Jones, who has long studied fish behavior for Berkley.

*    *    *    *

"The common carp (Cyprinus carpio) are indeed among the smartest freshwater fishes, if not THE smartest," said another source. " They learn well for fish. They have the longest complex learning retention of all fishes tested."

Seriously, though, it's impossible to measure fish "intelligence" in any way comparable to the way that it is measured in humans. Rather, we watch how they behave in nature, and, more importantly, in laboratories and just their response to various stimuli.

As I reveal in Better Bass Fishing, you’re just outsmarting yourself if you try to “out-think” bass. Yes, bass are capable of learned behavior. But they definitely aren’t the “Einsteins” of the fish world. Carp and bluegill rank higher in laboratory tests. Most importantly, though, bass (and other fish species) don’t “think” and they aren’t “smart.”

Rather, bass are selective as to food, cover, and water, and, each spring, they are driven by the biological imperative to spawn.

Those anglers who are smart enough to recognize those needs and respond accordingly, are the ones who catch the most and largest bass.  They look for water and cover that they have learned is attractive to bass during each season of the year. They learn the migration routes that fish take to those locations. They observe what bass are feeding on and try to offer baits that are similar in appearance.

Although bass are not smart, they do seem to learn to avoid some baits. That why new baits--- and new colors, to a lesser degree--- seem to produce better than older styles. For a while. We saw it happen with buzzbaits in the 1980s and soft jerkbaits in the 1990s. Now, it's happening with swimbaits.

(Check out all my books here.)

*    *    *    *

And here's an interesting take from the World Fishing Network:

The IQ of fish varies greatly depending on the species. It varies even further depending on individuals within any given species. Anglers need to look at the species that they are targeting for known traits and advantages that could make them more difficult to catch.

Fish can learn to avoid specific lures and noises made by anglers. In order to continue to be successful, anglers need to try new lures and colors on a regular basis. An effort should also be made to fish new areas and to make as little noise as possible.

Fish intelligence is hereditary and they can be bred to be easier to catch. Anglers should care take when harvesting fish in order to avoid selectively breeding intelligence. Smaller fish, whether intelligent or not, haven't had the chance to learn to avoid lures. Therefore, they make a better choice for harvesting.

Whether you are catching fish or not, it is unlikely that they are outsmarting you. Their intelligence is very limited. You just need to work around what they may have learned.

Where do carp and bass rank in intelligence on a planet with more than 30,000 species of fish in our ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans? We'll likely never know that.

But some scientists suspect that the top of the class are of the marine variety.

"In general, cartilaginous fishes (sharks, skates, and rays) have higher brain-to-body mass ratios than bony fishes, as well as most cold-blooded vertebrates. And manta rays have the largest brain size of any cartilaginous fish, although we don't know why," reports one website.

"What we do know, though, is that they're very curious. They also somehow perceive humans as 'special.' Along with marine mammals, they are among the very few animals known to seek out human contact for reasons other than food. Some of them have even been known to let humans ride on them. Preliminary evidence even suggest that they could recognize themselves in mirrors, putting them in an extremely small group of animals."

And Thom Demas, curator of fishes at the Tennessee Aquarium shared this interesting observation on the same site:

"I don’t know that there is a clear answer to this question but here is a personal experience from my time working with fishes.  The common hogfish, Lachnolaimus maximus, has proven over the years to be a very aware and observant fish. 

"I have kept many of them and while I have never looked into brain to body percentage for this animal, it clearly displays behavior that seems just a bit above that of many other fish I have worked with

"From observing my daily work (the hogfish was doing the observing) to following me around (moving in the tank to be nearest me--- presumably because of curiosity).  I know, you think it probably just wanted food and that’s what I thought. 

One day I fed the fish until it would no longer eat and then went back to my work.  I recall seeing that fish follow me around with a piece of food hanging from its mouth and more on the bottom of the tank being ignored; that convinced me there was more going on. 

I had one that would allow you to 'pet' it while on SCUBA in the water with it.  Many fish are evolved to display lots of complex behaviors or accomplish many things we could interpret as smart but the common hogfish will always be one of the smartest fish in my book!"

Friday
May042012

Invasive Species Carnage: So We Won't Forget 

When I started writing about the threat posed by Asian carp years ago, I received an angry letter from a reader. He was 75 years old, he said, and he had seen carp in our waters since he was a child.

In short, he wanted to know why I was trying to scare people about something that “is no big deal.”

What I quickly realized was that he didn’t realize that I was writing about silver and bighead carp, which started spreading through our rivers about 20 years ago. He thought that I was referring to the common carp, which has been around for more than a century.

Now here’s the kicker: The common carp is an introduced exotic species also. But it has become so pervasive in our waterways that most people, including that reader, don’t realize that it’s also an invader.

They don’t know of the damage that it’s done by disrupting ecological balance in our fisheries, notably degrading water quality, crowding out native species, and uprooting beneficial vegetation.

Twenty or 30 years from now, will we also accept the damage done by Asian carp, zebra mussels, and dozens of other invaders as “normal”?

Maybe the following will help us remember:

Lionfish Gobbling Up Native Species

Originally from the Indian and Pacific oceans, lionfish now are spreading throughout the Caribbean, as well as up the Atlantic Coast. Likely they were accidentally introduced into North American waters by the aquarium trade during the 1990s.

Lad Akins of REEF, a marine conservation group says this:

"They are eating almost anything that fits in their mouth. The lionfish can probably consume in excess of half of its own body size. They can take quite large prey.”

And this:

"I'm an optimist but potential impacts of lionfish could result in major shifts in the ecology of our Caribbean and West Atlantic reef barriers. It could result in the extinction of some fish species."

Read more here.

 

Eagle Deaths Linked to Exotic Plant

Bald eagles are dying because of hydrilla, an exotic plant that can provide good fish habitat, but often becomes so dense that it smothers native aquatic species and prevents boating and outdoor recreation.

Most recently, eight eagles were found dead of avian vacuolar myelinopathy at Lake Thurmond on the Georgia/South Carolina border.  Eleven died there last year.

The disease is caused by an alga that grows on the hydrilla. Small birds consume the alga and, in turn, are eaten by the eagles.

Read more here.

 

Invasive Pythons Now Targeting Everglades Birds

Even as they decimate native mammals in the Florida Everglades, Burmese pythons also have begun feeding on birds and their eggs.

Researcher Carla Dove says this:

“This finding is significant because it suggests that the Burmese python is not simply a sit-and-wait predator, but rather is opportunistic enough to find the nests of birds.

"Although the sample size is small, these findings suggest that the snakes have the potential to negatively affect the breeding success of birds.”

Read more here.

 

Exotic Mussels Choke Off Access

Mounds of zebra mussel shells are creating barriers to boating, as well as blocking fish and fresh water flow in Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago.

One lakefront property owner says this:

"The channels have become where they won't be able to be used in a couple years. I bought my house because it has great access to the lake. If I can't get access, the property's useless."

Read more here.