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Entries in Mississippi River (45)


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.


Islands, Other Habitat Created in Mississippi River's Pool 9

Armored with rocks to prevent erosion, nearly 100 acres of new islands will provide prime habitat for smallmouth bass when an $11.8 million restoration project on Pool 9 of the Mississippi River is completed in 2018.

Additionally, dredged areas that provided fill for the islands will offer valuable overwintering areas at least 8 feet deep for fish.

"This will be great for fish, waterfowl, shorebirds, and the people who enjoy them," said Karen Osterkamp, a fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, as seasonal work resumed recently on this portion of the river that separates northeastern Iowa from Wisconsin.

The ambitious rehabilitation was planned cooperatively by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Departments of Natural Resources in both Iowa and Wisconsin, with funding through the Army Corps of Engineers' Upper Mississippi River Restoration/Environmental Management Program.

Since Lock and Dam No. 9 was built in 1937, channelization has resulted in the loss of many natural islands and flood plain forests, reducing habitat for both fish and migratory birds. Seven islands and three emergent wetlands are being constructed in the 2,200-acre Harpers Slough backwater  between river miles 650 and 653 at the lower end of the pool to help restore the ecological balance.

"One of the main goals is to maintain habitat for  tundra swans and canvasback ducks that stop on Pool 9 during their migrations," said Mike Griffin, the Iowa's Mississippi River wildlife biologist.

He expects the new wetlands to bear large crops of arrowhead plants, whose underwater tubers, known as duck potatoes, are a preferred food for the thousands of tundra swans that visit the pool each year.


Sturgeon Recovery Prompts Less Restrictive Regulations in Minnesota

Bruce Holt of G.Loomis (front) and guide John Garrett, briefly hold a white sturgeon for photos

Arguably the Columbia River is the nation’s premier fishery for large sturgeon.

Fishing with guide John Garrett a few years ago, G.Loomis’ Bruce Holt, former PGA golfer Johnny Miller and I caught five white sturgeon , each measuring 9 feet long or more and weighing at least 300 pounds. We could have caught more, but wind and high waves finally chased us off the river.

With the three of us battered and beaten by the huge fish and rough conditions, Miller asked the guide, “Have you ever killed a fisherman out here?”

“Not yet,” said Garrett. “Not yet.”

Will Spychalla and Carlin Salmela caught this 75-inch sturgeon Jan. 1, 2015, on the St. Croix River. The fish, estimated to weigh 115 pounds, could have easily bested the Minnesota record of 94 pounds, 4 ounces, but had to be immediately released because it was out of season. New state rules will allow anglers to target lake sturgeon throughout much of the year. (Photo courtesy of Blue Ribbon Bait & Tackle)

Minnesota’s lake sturgeon aren’t that large--- 6 feet long and 100 pounds is a trophy. But they’re becoming more and more abundant, highlighting the impressive recovery of an ancient species once nearly wiped out by overfishing. Reflecting that recovery, the state is introducing liberalized regulations beginning March 1, as reported by

“At the center of the changes are catch-and-release seasons that will run for most of the year on the St. Croix, Mississippi and St. Louis rivers, the Red River of the North and all inland waters, including the Kettle River, where the official state record -- 94 pounds, 4 ounces -- was caught in 1994.

“The Kettle, which flows into the St. Croix in St. Croix State Park, is among a number of inland waters where sturgeon fishing has been closed for years as populations declined. Under the new rules, all inland waters will be open to catch-and-release fishing from June 16 to April 14.

“Sturgeon well over 100 pounds and longer than 6 feet likely have been caught in the St. Croix River between Taylors Falls and its mouth at the Mississippi River, according to anglers and biologists, with some angler-caught specimens weighing perhaps as much as 150 pounds. Previously, that stretch of water was open to sturgeon fishing for only a month and a half in the fall. The new season will allow fishing throughout the year except from March 2 to June 15.”


Ground Zero for Asian Carp Invasion

Havana, Ill., is Ground Zero for the Asian carp invasion, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. On the Illinois River, it’s about 200 miles south of Lake Michigan and 120 miles north of the Mississippi.

“You find more carp per acre, per mile of river, tan nearly anyplace else in the world,” says Kevin Irons, DNR’s Asian carp program director.

If you doubt that, check out this video.

Based on electrofishing surveys, bighead and silver carp now account for about 60 percent of the fish biomass in that stretch of the river. That means native species have declined dramatically because the exotics outcompete them for food and habitat.

And peaceful boat rides are a thing of the past because of silver carp, which go airborne when startled.

“People have been hit and seriously injured,” says DNR’s Matt O’Hara. “I know there have been some cases of broken noses and jaws.

“Pretty distressing when you come out here and you’re looking for native fish, and all you see is invasive Asian carp,” he adds.


Bass Assist With Native Mussel Restoration

Photo courtesy of Nathan Eckert, USFWS

Smallmouth and largemouth bass assisted recently with an innovative program to boost sagging mussel populations in Wisconsin.

Carrying shellfish larvae in their gills, they were released into the Chippewa River by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

“The fish will swim around like normal and, after a week or two, the mussel larvae will mature and drop from the fish gills down into the substrate,” explained biologist Nathan Eckert. “In doing a free release of fish with mussels, our hope is that the fish drop off more mussels than would occur naturally, thus bolstering the native population.”

For the project, 2,500 bass were released with larval mucket, 1,050 walleye with larval black sandshell , and 800 lake sturgeon with larval hickorynut.

“Mussels are nature’s water filter,” the biologist said. “They leave the water cleaner than they found it. This is a benefit that the public will receive, even if they do not notice it.”

Additionally, cleaner water allows for more robust phytoplankton and zooplankton populations, which provide the base of the food chain for bass and other game fish.

Biologists “equip” the fish by placing them in tubs of water and then pouring in the larvae. “We let them swim around in the mussel glochidia soup for about a half hour and, during that time, the mussels grab ahold of the fish’s gills,” Eckert said.

With preliminary findings encouraging, FWS also has used this method to assist with recovery of the endangered Higgins eye pearlymussel in tributaries of the Upper Mississippi River.

“We haven't found many, but we have recovered individuals from multiple age classes in two of those streams and the individuals have reached maturity,” the biologist explained.

“Now we are watching and waiting to see if those individuals will start reproducing on their own. Once we have documented that the animals we released are reproducing, we can declare the effort a success and the population has been re-established in these streams where that mussel hasn't been seen in the last 100 years.”