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Entries in Great Lakes (139)


New Invader in Great Lakes: Thermocyclops Crassus

It's not much to look at. In fact, it's impossible to see without a microscope.

But for the first time in a decade, an exotic aquatic species has been found in the Great Lakes. That makes 185 or 186  non-native species, depending on who's counting, now established in the basin. Some, including the lamprey and alewife, migrated up the St. Lawrence Seaway, but most, including the zebra mussel as well as this latest, probably were introduced via ballast water from ocean-going ships.

Thermocyclops crassus, a type of zooplankton, was discovered in water samples taken from Lake Erie by limnology technician Joe Connolly of Cornell University.

“It’s kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Connolly said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t something we’d seen before.”

He found both male and female specimens in low numbers, but enough to say that an established population exists of the invertebrate that is native to Europe, Asia, and Australia. Officials from both the U.S. and Canada have planned more sampling to determine how widespread this new invader is and what its impact may be.

 “We don’t know enough yet about what this species could or could not do in the Great Lakes,” said Elizabeth Hinchey Malloy, an environmental scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Size isn't an indicator of impact, as the zebra mussel, a fingernail-sized shellfish, and the round goby, a small bottom-dwelling fish, have proven.

Confirmed in 2006, the bloody red shrimp was the last previously discovered invader. It now swarms in excess of 135 individuals per square foot.

"The impact of this species on the Great Lakes is yet unknown, but based on its history of invasion across Europe, significant impacts are possible," said Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. "The bloody red shrimp is an omnivore. Its diet includes waterfleas and algae. They may compete with young fish, while providing food for larger fish. The invasion of this species in some European reservoirs has been documented to accelerate silica cycling, resulting in blooms of diatoms and, in some cases, plating out of silica onto pipes."


Will You Stand Up for the Future of Fishing?

As a kid, I didn’t just love to fish.

I lived to fish.

Over the years --- and usually fishing --- I’ve met many who felt the same way about their childhood.

Reading comments on Facebook and in fishing forums, I can see that many adults never outgrow that feeling. That’s good.

In fact, the world would be a better place if more people felt that way.

I’m not talking about forsaking a family, giving up a job, and throwing away responsibility to go fishing 24/7. I’m talking about recognizing the value of fishing for relaxation, enjoyment of nature, and as a dangling carrot to get you from Monday to Friday. I’m talking about time spent with children and grandchildren that allows you to share knowledge and experience, as well as pass on the passion for a wholesome activity that has brought you so much happiness.

Sadly, many who do not fish are rising to power in all levels of government. They come from a background that says preservation --- look but don’t touch --- is better than conservation --- sustainable use of a resource through good stewardship. Some are adamantly anti-fishing, with close ties to extreme environmental groups. Others simply give no thought or value to recreational fishing and would consider its demise an acceptable loss for implementation of their agendas.

What can be we about this? Well, we could take them fishing. That really is the best solution. But we might have to abduct some of them to get them out of their cubicles, and that could get complicated and messy and charges might be filed.

The alternative is to organize and stand strong for recreational fishing. I know, I know: Fishing is your escape from things like organizing and standing strong. It takes you back to childhood, when living to fish was pure and uncomplicated.

I understand and respect that feeling. But I also know that neglecting to defend what you love against an overzealous enemy is the surest way to lose it.

The irony is that those of us who fish --- about 40 million annually --- far outnumber those who would take it away. But the latter are committed to a preservationist agenda, while we who fish are committed to fishing more than we are protecting our right to fish.

Or at least that’s the way that it has been.

“We’re the biggest recreational sporting group in the country, but we’ve hardly been organized enough to tie our shoes,” said Bob Eakes, owner of Red Drum Tackle in Buxton, N.C.

Eakes and his business were among the first casualties in this war against recreational fishing, where many of the early volleys are being fired at saltwater anglers. Under the guise of protecting birds and turtles, the National Park Service (NPS) elected to side with three environmental groups and shut down access to nearly half of the world-famous surf fishery at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The battle to reclaim that fishery is still going on, but there’s no doubt that the NPS is no friend to recreational fishermen.

“Twenty-one national parks are waiting to see how this plays out,” Eakes explained. “And we’re starting to see issues in freshwater as well.”

On inland fisheries thus far, recreational fishing is being attacked mostly by groups who want to ban lead fishing tackle and associations and municipalities who use concerns about the spread of invasive species to shut down access.

But more is on the way. By executive order, the federal National Ocean Council can decide where you can and cannot fish on oceans, coastal waters, and the Great Lakes, and it has the authority to extend its reach inland to rivers and lakes.

That’s why your support for Keep America Fishing is so vitally needed. “No one has been trumpeting the message that the public’s right to fish is at stake. But with Keep America Fishing (KAF), we now have a way to do that,” said Eakes.

Garnering more than 43,000 messages of opposition from anglers, KAF helped defeat an attempt to impose a national ban on lead fishing tackle a few years ago.

Go there to learn about the issues, get involved, and make a donation.


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.


Although Not as Lethal, LMBV Still in Our Waters

Bass infected with LMBV appear normal, unless the disease turns lethal.

For the majority of bass fishermen, Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) is out of sight and out of mind, and has been for more than a decade.

But it's not out of our waters.

Is that reason for concern?

Yes. And no.

No, we aren't seeing numerous die-offs related to the virus that occurred for about a decade during the late 1990s and early years of this new century. And there's no reason to believe that's going to happen again. For example, it has not turned lethal in Saguaro Lake, where it was found in 2010. That discovery made Arizona the 19th state to detect the virus in its fisheries since 1991.

But it's still out there, and, yes, it still can kill, as evidenced by a die-off attributed to LMBV at a small Indiana fishery in 2012. It was the first documented in that state since 2001 at Hamilton Lake.

"Although the die-off was disappointing, it was not devastating," said biologist Neil Ledet, who accurately pointed out that nothing can be done to eradicate the virus."But we want to document where it causes fish kills," he added.

About the same time, resource managers reported finding the virus in four West Virginia fisheries.

Two years before, fisheries managers attributed LMBV as the cause for the decline in both catch rates and size of bass caught in Kerr Lake/Buggs Island on the Virginia-North Carolina border. “We’ve seen some declines in the growth rate, and it’s taking longer to catch a 5-pound fish,” biologist Dan Michaelson said. “But the big key has been the increase that we’ve seen in mortality. Since 2004, it’s up 10 percent, and that’s a lot.”

He added that testing also showed LMBV was present in bass in both the Roanoke/Stanton and James River drainages. "We're going to have to look around some more," he said.

More recently, biologists confirmed that northern snakeheads taken from two Potomac tributaries were infected with the virus. That might seem a good end for a bad fish that could cause the decline of bass and other native species.

But as we learned a decade ago, fatalities aren't always a foregone conclusion. In fact, the exotic fish simply could be carriers for spreading LMBV to bass throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Over the years, the virus has been found in other species as well, but, thus far, only in bass does it sometimes evolve into a fatal disease.

Why that is the case is one of many specifics that we still don't know about LMBV, including its origin, its means of movement from one water body to another, and why it proved fatal so often for about a decade, but since has leveled out to little more than a foot note--- albeit an intriguing one-- in fisheries management.

"The fisheries management community largely ignores it now," said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director. "It's not the threat it first seemed to be. It did not wipe out bass everywhere. And it's pretty species specific, unlike VHS, so it doesn't get much attention anymore."

By contrast, viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus has caused massive die-offs of several species, including bluegill, black crappie, drum, gizzard shad, and muskellunge, mostly in the Great Lakes. It also has been confirmed in smaller kills of smallmouth bass and walleye, and more than a dozen additional species have been identified as carriers.

VHS seems the most lethal in colder water, which is just the opposite for LMBV. Both are among more than 100 naturally occurring viruses that affect fish, but not warm-blooded animals.

"LMBV was suspected to be a new virus that evolved from a virus that infects amphibians, as I recall," Gilliland said. " Bass had no natural immunity to it so it spread quickly via who knows what means of transport.  It has now runs its course in most places. Although it can be found in many populations, apparently immunities have built up and so far, the virus has not mutated enough to cause additional fish kills.

Still, we have educated guesses regarding the specifics of LMBV, thanks to annual seminars that B.A.S.S. convened until 2004. At those sessions, fisheries experts from around the country shared information and developed strategies for dealing with the outbreak. For example, they theorized that "stressed" bass seemed to be most susceptible and anglers likely aided in spreading the virus by moving fish and/or water in their livewells.

You can read about their findings and conclusions in a "fact sheet" posted at


Noise Could Be Way to Slow Spread of Silver Carp

Anglers and other boaters already know that silver carp don't like noise, and arguably that's not a good thing. That's because huge schools of these exotic fish go airborne as they flee the sounds of outboard engines, often damaging boaters and injuring people.

But this aversion to noise also could provide a silver lining in the quest to slow the spread of silver carp, according to scientists with the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).    

“Our complex noise findings suggest that certain sounds could be used to divert silver carp away from strategic points on waterways or herd them into nets,” said Brooke Vetter, a UMD researcher and graduate student.

After placing speakers at the ends of outdoor concrete ponds, scientists tested carp response to pure sounds, which resemble a dial tone, and more complex noises. The fish quickly adjusted to the pure tones, never swimming away more than two consecutive times. But they continuously fled the more complex sounds.

Now researchers are testing complex noise as a way to control silver carp in the Illinois River.

“Silver carp threaten many waterways in the Great Lakes basin by competing with native species,” said USGS's Mark Gaikowski. “Understanding silver carp behavior is critical for determining effective techniques to minimize the ecological and economic damage of this invasive species."