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Entries in exotic species (211)


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.)


Lionfish Challenge Closes With 16,609 Harvested

Participants killed 16,609 lionfish in Florida's Lionfish Challenge, which closed Sept. 30.

“The success of this program really shows what Florida’s residents and visitors can do when faced with a conservation challenge such as lionfish,” said Brian Yablonski, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) chairman.

Lionfish are a nonnative species that were first noted in Florida waters in the mid-80s and have since spread up the Atlantic coast and across the Gulf of Mexico. They are prolific and feed heavily on native fish, especially juveniles and smaller species. Human removal is the only way to keep their numbers in check.

The Lionfish Challenge rewarded participants who took 50 or more lionfish with a variety of incentives including a program T-shirt, a commemorative coin, the opportunity to take an additional spiny lobster per day during the two-day sport season and entry into raffle drawings for prizes such as Neritic polespears, $100 dive tank refills and fishing licenses.

The competition began on Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day, the first Saturday after Mother’s Day.

Volusia County resident David Garrett took the most lionfish with a total of 3,324. John Dickinson came in second with a total of 2,408 lionfish removed.

“I want the reefs to benefit from this and to save our native fish,” said David Garrett, who is a commercial fisherman.

Garrett will be officially crowned Lionfish King at the Nov. 16 Commission meeting in St. Petersburg. He will also receive a lifetime saltwater fishing license and be featured on the cover of the January 2017 Saltwater Regulations Publication.

Ninety-five people participated in the challenge from across the state and the southeastern United States.

The FWC would like to thank the 34 dive shops across Florida that supported this program by acting as checkpoints. Shops located in the Panhandle continue to participate in the Panhandle Pilot Program.

Panhandle Pilot Program

The Panhandle Pilot Program focuses on lionfish removal efforts off Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties. For every 100 lionfish checked in from this seven-county region between May 2016 and May 2017, the harvester will be eligible to receive a tag allowing them to take either a red grouper or a cobia that is over the bag limit from state waters (all other regulations, including seasons and size limits, still apply). The state will issue up to a total of 100 red grouper and 30 cobia tags to successful participants in the pilot program. So far, 38 tags have been issued.

In addition, the first 10 persons or groups that check in 500 or more lionfish during this one-year period will be given the opportunity to name an artificial reef. Four teams have qualified to name an artificial reef so far, and two of the four have already been named.


Yet Another Maryland Snakehead Tops World Record

Although the official world record is 17.75 pounds for northern snakehead, at least three that topped 18 pounds have been pulled from the Potomac, disturbing evidence that suggests, if nothing else, that this exotic predator grows larger in U.S. waters than in its native Asian.

Most recently, bowfisherman Emory "Dutch" Baldwin captured and killed a snakehead that weighed 18.42 pounds on May 20. Maryland recognized the fish as a state record because it does not require that this exotic, along with invasive flathead and blue catfish, be captured on rod and reel to qualify.

In 2015,  Dan Moon caught one that weighed 18.8 on an uncertified scale, and, three years before, Juan Duran boated a Potomac snakehead that weighed 18.37.

As snakeheads become an increasingly popular fish for bowfishermen and rod-and-reel anglers alike because of their size, fighting ability, and edibility, resource managers continue to be concerned about their long-term impact on bass and other species.

"Part of the reason we should be worried about it is we don't really know what the impacts are going to be," said Joe Love, tidal bass program manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). "We do know that, in some cases, invasive species cost millions of dollars in damage to the ecosystem."

One concern is that the aggressive and fast-growing predators will outcompete bass for food.

Additionally, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources continues to emphasize that snakeheads can be caught legally in any season and at any size. "We'd like it to be harvested if anyone catches it," Love said.


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.


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.