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Entries in exotic species (208)

Tuesday
Aug232016

Tropical Fish in South Dakota Highlight Danger Posed by Exotic Species

Imagine buying 3-inch fish for an aquarium, with no idea that they have the potential to reach the size in the photo above. That happens time after time all over the U.S. when hobbyists buy pacu, which resemble their smaller piranha cousins.  They have impressive dentures of their own, but their teeth are flatter and used mostly for cracking nuts and seeds.

And every summer, the consequences of those purchases play out, as anglers report catching pacu released into public waters by irresponsible aquarium owners. For example, this year, two were caught in Michigan's Lake St. Clair and another in the Port Huron area.

Standard response from both anglers and the public in general when this happens is "Well, they wouldn't have survived the winter anyway." In most cases, this is true.

But not always, as I reveal below in a story that I first wrote for B.A.S.S. Times and Activist Angler three years ago.

And one of these days, pacu or piranha, maybe both, just might find welcoming waters where they too can survive in a climate far too cold for them under normal conditions. Those areas might be springs or perhaps warm-water discharges from power plants.

*    *    *    *

What resource managers long have feared would happen because of irresponsible fish hobbyists has become reality: An exotic species has established itself in a waterway far north of where it should be able to survive.

Earlier this summer, biologists confirmed that the Jack Dempsey, a South American cichlid related to the peacock bass, is reproducing in South Dakota’s Fall River.

How it that possible?

“The hot springs in the river makes it perfect for cichlids,” said Mike Smith, aquatic nuisance species coordinator for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “We first found a Jack Dempsey there in 2009. Then, two weeks ago, we found multiple-year classes.

“And there’s no way that the fish could have gotten there except aquarium release.”

Water nearest the springs stays at about 70 degrees year around, which allows the exotic fish to survive brutal South Dakota winters.

In this case, the Jack Dempsey’s impact on native species likely will be minimal. Few other predators live in the shallow water, and forage species gobbled up by the aggressive cichlid can be replenished from populations outside the range of the hot spring’s influence.

But the discovery is significant because it confirms that exotics can use thermal refuges provided by springs or warm-water releases from power plants to survive in cold climates.

Jack Dempsey and another popular aquarium species, the red-rimmed melania snail, now live in the hot springs of South Dakota's Fall River because of irresponsible aquarium owners. Photo courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish & ParksCould the piranha be the next exotic fish to become established? Or its much larger cousin, the pacu? Every summer, media across the country report catches of both fish in ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. For example, a pacu was caught in Illinois’ Lake Lou Yaeger in June. And at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, piranha captures have been reported several times since 2007.

Fish hobbyists also have contributed to troublesome infestations of plants such as Brazilian elodea, parrot feather, yellow floating heart, and even hydrilla.

“At a lot of our lakes, people just dump their aquariums to get rid of whatever they don’t want anymore,” said Tim Banek, invasive species coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Bill Frazier, conservation director for the North Carolina B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, also has seen evidence of aquarium dumping while serving as monitor of water quality for the city of High Point. He thinks the time is long past for directing blame primarily at anglers, especially bass fishermen.

Much of the problem, he insists, lies squarely with aquarium hobbyists and the pet industry that supplies them, as well as with nurseries that sell exotic aquatic plants.

“I haven’t seen a single trace of any invasive (plant) at the ramps, transferred by boat in 28 years,” he said.

“I know the overall perception is that weeds can be spread by anyone with a watercraft. I am not denying this pathway,” Frazier continued. “I just do not believe it as significant as everyone would have you believe.”

The North Carolina water expert has found parrot feather upstream of a submerged roadbed, where boats can’t go. He has discovered water hyacinth just downstream from a farmer’s market that featured the exotic in a water fountain. And he has seen a discarded aquarium underneath a parrot feather infestation, where the shoreline borders a large apartment complex.

“Some time later, a bank fisherman caught a skillet-sized pacu there,” he added.

And while anglers and the fishing industry pay license fees and excise taxes to finance management of aquatic resources degraded by aquatic invaders, these special interests are allowed to escape responsibility for the damage they do.

“This is what we need to be attacking and taxing,” he said.

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.

Tuesday
Aug162016

Nearly 10,000 Lionfish Harvested in Florida Waters

With little more than a month left to go in Florida's Lionfish Challenge, divers have removed 9,216 of the exotic predator from state waters.

Since the May 14 kickoff, 68  have participated in the program that rewards divers for taking 50 or more lionfish. Of those, 23 also qualified for the Panhandle Pilot Program, which rewards participants for every 100 lionfish removed from Escambia through Franklin counties, where lionfish densities tend to be higher.

 David Garrett is in the lead for the Lionfish King title, with 1,262 harvested so far, followed by John McCain at 380.

Why the war on lionfish? Although about 18 inches is the maximum size in its nonnative range, the lionfish is a versatile, voracious predator that is gobbling up smaller native species, as well as juveniles of highly prized sport fish species. Additionally, as its population grows, it crowds native species out of their habitat.

Lionfish Challenge

Remove 50 or more lionfish between Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (May 14, 2016) and the end of September to enter the Lionfish Challenge.

Rewards include the following:

  • a commemorative coin to mark membership
  • an event T-shirt
  • Lionfish Hall of Fame recognition on the MyFWC.com website
  • being entered in drawings to win prizes including fishing licenses, lionfish harvesting equipment, fuel cards and dive tank refills
  • and, the person who “checks in” the most lionfish will be crowned Florida’s Lionfish King or Queen and will receive a lifetime saltwater fishing license, have his or her photograph featured on the cover of the FWC’s January 2017 Saltwater Regulations publication, be prominently featured on MyFWC.com’s Lionfish Hall of Fame, and be recognized at the November 2016 FWC Commission meeting

How to Enter

Email photos of your first 50 qualifying lionfish to Lionfish@MyFWC.com and include the name of the harvester, the date harvested, your signature in the photo (written on a piece of paper next to the fish, for example) and your mailing address. You can also submit your first 50 at an FWC-approved checkpoint.

Go here to learn more.

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
May192016

Pensacola Tournament Takes a Bite out of Lionfish Population

,

Participants removed 8,089 lionfish  in only two days at the May 14-15 Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition Tournament out of Pensacola.

 More than 7,000 people (more than double last year’s numbers) attended the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival , where visitors got to taste lionfish, see filet demonstrations, check out art and conservation booths and much more.

And if that wasn’t enough, Charles Meyling of Montgomery broke the state record for longest lionfish caught in Gulf waters when he brought in a 445-millimeter lionfish (about 18 inches. Previous record was 438 millimeters.

At FWC-supported events statewide that weekend and leading up to that weekend, another 5,978 lionfish were removed for a total of 14,067 statewide. By contrast, 2,975 lionfish were removed in 2015.

“These numbers are a great example of the agency’s efforts to get the public educated about and involved in lionfish removal,” said Jessica McCawley, Division of Marine Fisheries Management director. “Events like this one will encourage continued involvement in proactively and successfully removing lionfish.”

On a more cautious note, this huge increase in harvest also could reflect that populations of this voracious predator are rapidly growing, posing even more of a threat to native species, including snapper, grouper, and other sports fish.

Thanks to the growing interest in lionfish as a food fish, many lionfish harvested around the state will be sold commercially in places like New Orleans, Atlanta, Destin, in Florida Whole Foods, and by Edible Invaders in Pensacola.

Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (first Saturday after Mother’s Day) was created by FWC commissioners to raise awareness about lionfish – nonnative, invasive species that have a potential negative impact on native species and

If you want to participate in the 2016 Lionfish Challenge or the Panhandle Pilot Program, remove lionfish, and get rewarded, go here.

Lionfish and other exotic pets that can no longer be cared for should never be released into Florida waters or lands. To learn more about how and where to surrender an exotic pet for adoption go here.

Statewide Lionfish Event Removal Totals:

655 – FSDA Lionfish Calcutta – St. Petersburg

3,478 – Northeast Florida Lionfish Blast – Jacksonville

727 – Lion Tamer Tournament – Panama City Beach

25 – Reef Environmental Education Foundation – Key Largo

31 – Sebastian Lionfish Fest – Sebastian

1,062 – Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition Pre-Tournament - Pensacola