A recent study by University of Notre Dame researchers suggests that consequences of an Asian carp invasion into the Great Lakes may not be as catastrophic as many fear.
“If bighead and silver carp were to establish in Lake Erie, local fish biomass is not likely to change beyond observations recorded in the last three decades,” the university said in a press release about the findings.
Scientists pointed out, however, that the study mainly highlights the uncertainty, adding that the walleye population could decrease by as little as 10 percent or as much as 40.
“The range of possibilities concerning walleye biomass shows that the potential effect to this species is highly uncertain,” said Roger Cooke, one of the study’s authors.
But what’s happening right now in Kentucky Lake and many more of the nation’s bass fisheries along major rivers is not theory. It’s reality. The exotic fish are there in massive numbers. For example, a first-of-its kind commercial tournament on Barkley and Kentucky Lakes last year netted 82,953 pounds of bighead and silver carp --- that’s more than 40 tons--- in just two days.
And this reality does not bode well for the future of sport fishing.
“If we don’t do something, bass fishing will be over with in five to ten years. You won’t be able to run a bass boat on many of these waters,” said J.D. Johnson, owner of Gulf Pride Seafood.
“If people don’t wake up, we might as well hang it up.”
Working with Carp Management Group of America LLC, Johnson is at the forefront of an effort to garner both angler and financial support for commercial harvest of carp. And he’s not alone.
B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland also supports the effort, as do fisheries chiefs in Kentucky and Tennessee.
“Fishermen need to get behind this idea of commercial netting,” Gilliland said. “It’s the only viable solution until someone develops a magic pill.”
“We have to do something now before our lakes and rivers become so over-populated with Asian carp that our native fish never will be able to make a comeback,” said Tennessee’s Bobby Wilson.
“We may not be able to eliminate Asian carp by this method. But the goal is to reduce their numbers so that they will not have a significant impact on our native species of fish.”
Kentucky’s Ron Brooks added that the carp pose a dire threat to “the very base of the aquatic food pyramid” because they feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton, primary forage for newborn bass, crappie, and other sport fish.
The invaders pose that threat because of their massive appetites and huge numbers. A carp eats 5 to 20 percent of its body weight each day as it grows to an average weight of 30 to 40 pounds. A female can lay hundreds of thousands of eggs at a time, and she can do so multiple times annually.
Even knowing all this, however, some bass anglers likely are shaking their heads and saying that they don’t want nets in their waters. But Gilliland said commercial harvest does not harm sport fisheries --- even when gillnets are used.
Most significantly, however, gillnets aren’t the best way to harvest Asian carp, according to Johnson. “We call it ‘strike fishing’ and we’ve done it for years with mullet,” he said.
Schooling fish are encircled by net, driven inward, and quickly harvested. No nets are left unattended to snag whatever swims by.
“I can put 900 feet of net down to 200 feet in less than a minute,” Johnson said.
He added that he could send 575 metric tons of carp to Asian each year, if only the facilities were available to process them. Right now, though, harvested carp are used mostly for fertilizer and silage, and that’s not profitable enough to sustain an aggressive commercial fishery.
“In Tennessee, things are moving at a snail’s pace regarding commercial harvest, processing, and marketing of Asian carp,” Wilson said.
“Funding is the major issue, as it is with almost every venture.
“We know that commercial fishermen can catch them, and we know that there is a market for them overseas, as well as within the United States. The missing pieces are the processing plants and the price per pound for commercial fishermen.”
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)