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Entries in Mississippi River (40)

Monday
Oct212013

As Mussel Threat Moves West, Feds Sit Back and Watch

The federal government is doing a pitiful job of protecting our waters from invasions by exotic species. And I’m not talking about its reluctance to remove the manmade connection between the Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan. Yeah, that’s a problem, but its failure is more all-encompassing.

During the 1980s, Asian carp escaped aquaculture facilities in the South, riding into the Mississippi and other rivers on flood waters. Within a decade, we knew that bighead and silver carp were crowding out native species, with the latter also a serious threat to recreational boaters because of its tendency to go airborne when frightened.

Yet, incredibly, the silver carp was not listed as an injurious species under the federal Lacey Act until 2007 and the bighead carp until 2011.

With the zebra mussel, the feds were a little more prompt. After it was discovered in Lake St. Clair in 1988, it was listed in 1991.

But the quagga, identified as a separate species about that same time, still is not.

What’s the big deal?  Well, invasive species don’t respect boundaries, and, under the Lacey Act, those who transport injurious species across state lines can be both fined and jailed for misdemeanors or felonies. Felony trafficking violations are punishable by a maximum of fine of $20,000, five years in prison, or both, and property used to aid the offense may be subject to forfeiture.

Had the weight of that law been hanging over his head, whoever carried quagga mussels across the Rockies in 2007 might have been a little more conscientious about cleaning his boat and trailer before beginning the journey to Lake Mead.

And if listing of both species had been combined with a more aggressive publicity and enforcement campaign by the feds, the two invaders might not now be threatening waters all over the West.

Already in the East, they’ve crowded out native species, disrupted food webs, fouled recreational beaches, and cost taxpayers billions of dollars in maintenance costs because of their tendency to clog water intake and delivery pipes and infest hydropower infrastructures.

“The little critters are a serious threat to the United States,” said Larry Dalton, recently retired invasive species coordinator for Utah, where mussels already have forced $15 million in repairs to water-delivery systems.

In a 2010 report, the Western Regional Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species (WRP) estimated that zebra mussels already had been responsible for $94,474,000 in direct and indirect costs for Idaho.

And the Pew Charitable Trusts warned, “Their rapid spread threatens water supplies and energy systems in the West, a region heavily dependent upon hydropower and often gripped by drought. In response, state officials have stepped up boat inspections and cleaning efforts . . .”

Right now, western states are trying to protect their waters from quaggas with a patchwork of rules and regulations. But anecdotal evidence suggests the piecemeal strategy isn’t effective, especially as a deterrent.

For example, a trucker was stopped last fall as he entered Washington State, towing a boat that with about 100 zebra mussels attached. The offender had been caught doing the same thing in 2010. And during questioning, he said that he also had been detained in another state with a contaminated boat.

So why isn’t the quagga mussel listed under the Lacey Act? You’ll have to ask the bureaucrats at the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about that and why Pew estimates the agency could take as long as 10 years to take action.

“It basically takes an act of God to put something on the injurious wildlife list,” said Leah Elwell, WRP coordinator.

Or an act of Congress. That’s why Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada is sponsoring H.R. 1823, the Protecting Lakes from Quaggas Act of 2013.

And that’s why the Western Governors’ Association is supporting it.

“This (the act) would invest federal and state authorities with an important tool for containing and eradicating quagga mussels by providing for increased inspections of boats cross state lines,” they said.

The act makes sense, of course, and thus should pass with bipartisan support. But that doesn’t mean it will.

Nor would its passage ensure that federal officials would vigorously prosecute offenders.

If past performance is an indication of future actions, the feds will continue to sit back and watch as quagga and zebra mussels spread throughout the West, as they have in the East. 

Monday
Aug192013

Asian Carp More Adaptable Than Previously Thought

Researchers from Purdue University have made some unsettling discoveries regarding Asian carp.

“It looks like the carp can probably become established in a wider range of environmental conditions than once thought,” said Reuben Goforth, an assistant professor of forestry and natural resources.

Goforth and associates learned that the exotic invaders are spawning in waters previously thought too narrow or slow moving. That means even more sport fisheries are at risk.

On a semi-positive note, he added, ‘’While the presence of eggs indicates a successful spawning of these fishes in new areas, it’s not known yet whether those eggs would be successful in surviving to adulthood.”

Additionally, they found evidence of carp spawning far upstream and eggs drifting in water as late as September in Indiana’s Wabash River. Previously, reproduction was thought to end in July.

Until now, most information related to where Asian carp might spawn was based on data gathered from their native habitats in Asian rivers and streams.

“The reason truly invasive species are so successful is because they overcome obstacles,” Goforth said. “When you base their limitations on what happens in their native ecosystems, it’s a good start. But it may be a good idea to go back and take this new data to recalculate more precise limits based on these new understandings.”

Support Grows for Separation 

Those who want to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp invasion by removing the manmade connection between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin have a new ally.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn surprised many when he endorsed that solution during a meeting with other governors here.

“Ultimately, I think we have to separate the basins,” he said. “I really feel that is the ultimate solution. We have to do it.”

Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council called Quinn’s remarks “a very positive step forward.” And Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said, “I think it’s great to see people talking about longer-term solutions.”

In the past, Illinois sided with Indiana, the city of Chicago, and the Obama administration in opposing the separation. They argued that closure would increase flood risks, while damaging tourism and commerce.

“It’s important that we deal with this issue, but it’s also important that we deal with it in a way that preserves the logistical advantage and opportunity to move commerce through the region,” said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

But Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have long favored the strategy and even sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Chicago’s water district. In a suit they lost, they claimed that refusal to separate the watersheds created a public nuisance.

The strongest argument for closing the aquatic highway, though, is that an explosion of Asian carp in the Great Lakes could decimate the system’s fishery, worth an estimated $7.5 billion annually. Additionally, the connection leaves the way open for other invasive species to cross watersheds.

The connecting canal was constructed more than a century ago, to allow Chicago’s sewage pollution to flow downstream, instead of contaminating the city’s Lake Michigan water supply. It also allowed for commercial navigation.

(These articles appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Tuesday
Aug132013

'Boys, Oh Boys... I Think He's Come Back for His Noon Feeding'

Did you miss Shark Week on the Discovery Channel? Never fear.

I’ll get you up to speed.

But, first, we’d better get a bigger boat, especially if we’re going fishing in the Potomac River, which is mostly noted by anglers for its largemouth bass and snakeheads.

And we’d better upgrade the hooks on our Zara Spooks.

That’s because a couple of 8-foot bull sharks have shown up there recently.

"When I first seen it, it was like 'Jaws' -- we need a bigger boat!" said Willy Dean, a commercial fisherman who found one of the big predators in his net.

"I'm not kidding you. It looked huge. I didn't know how we were gonna get it out. It's my first shark. I've been fishing here a little over 30 years, and it's the first time I've even seen one."

Read the story here.

Now, let’s head over to Australia, where bull sharks have taken up residence in a golf course lake. Talk about a “water hazard.”

More details are here.

And Lake Nicaragua in Central America? I'd watch my back if I ventured into that body of freshwater.

“The picture above was taken in 2000 at the San Ramon Biological Station, Maderas National Park; it serves as evidence that sharks, indeed, do exist in Lake Nicaragua today. Two young, adult bull sharks are shown with Anna Maria Adamo (the former consul to the USA) and Rene Molina Valenzuela. The sharks were accidentally caught in the nets of local fisherman while fishing for other food species such as guapote and mojarra, as fishing for the sharks in Lake Nicaragua is not allowable. Thanks to Anna Maria Adamo for the photo. 

“Nicaragua's freshwater sharks have been migrating up the Rio San Juan to Lake Nicaragua from the Atlantic Ocean, for as long as people can remember. Lake Nicaragua used to be well populated with bull sharks until the 1960s and 1970s when Nicaragua allowed Japan to build and operate a shark fin processing plant on the shores of the Rio San Juan. There was even a shark fin processing plant on the lake shores near Granada during the golden days of Nicaragua.”

Read more here.

And how about the bull shark that swam up the Mississippi River, all the way to Alton, Ill.? Maybe this explains why Jimmy Hoffa’s body hasn’t been found since he disappeared in 1975.

“Officially, bull sharks have made it up the Mississippi as far as Illinois. In the town of Alton, Illinois, which is above St. Louis, two commercial fishermen caught a bull shark in the river. This shark had been raiding their fish traps, and they decided to catch the culprit once and for all. They set a big trap, one that would catch the biggest muskellunge or pike.  They were certainly shocked to find that it was a shark raiding their traps.

“Now, there is another interesting story that should be added. Although no official record of it exists, a man was supposedly attacked by a shark in Lake Michigan in 1955. This attack supposedly happened at one of the beaches near Chicago. The shark may have traveled through the Illinois River and then took a trip up the Michigan and Illinois Canal.

"However, the canal was disused and parts of it had already started falling in. It could have made it up the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Great Lakes system. How it made it through the locks and dams on the St. Lawrence is a very good question. Further, bull sharks have been found only as far north as Massachusetts. None have been reported in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they could enter the river and seaway.”

Learn more here.

The inspiration for  the novel “Jaws”? Peter Benchley supposedly got the idea from 1916 shark attacks along the inland waters of New Jersey.

“In the summer of 1916, panic struck the Jersey Shore. A shark sunk its teeth into Charles Vansant, the 25-year-old son of a Philadelphia businessman, out for an evening swim in the resort town of Beach Haven on July 1. A lifeguard pulled him ashore, but he quickly bled to death. Five days later, and 45 miles to the north, in Spring Lake, New Jersey, Charles Bruder, a young bellhop at a local hotel, met a similar fate.

“Then, something even stranger happened. The rogue great white traveled 30 miles north of Spring Lake and into Matawan Creek. On July 12, Lester Stillwell, 11, was playing in the creek 16 miles inland when the shark attacked. A young man named Watson Stanley Fisher attempted to save the boy, but was fatally injured in the process. 

“Joseph Dunn was luckier. The teenager, the shark’s fifth victim, was bitten in the creek less than a half-hour later and survived.”

Go here for more details.

And, finally, here’s an interview with Bruce Fintale, who played the shark in the blockbuster movie that has spawned hundreds of sea monster movies.

And, we can’t forget the latest film epic, Sharknado.

Now, let’s all go swimming, shall we?

Friday
Aug092013

Minnesotans Want Locks Closed to Protect Fisheries from Asian Carp

Minnesotans are worried about Asian carp moving into inland lakes from the Mississippi River--- and justifiably so. As they’ve spread out from the lower Mississippi states, where they escaped, they’ve proven inexorable in their expansion, often riding in on flood waters.

Dennis Anderson at the StarTribune says this:

“Waiting this long to close some combination of the Upper or Lower St. Anthony locks, or the lock at Ford Dam, on the Mississippi River to stop Asian carp from infesting the state’s northern waters, is among the dumbest stunts Minnesota has pulled.

“Every day the locks stay open, the state’s inaction is dumber still.”

Also, a poll released by the National Wildlife Federation and other groups reveals that 63 percent of Minnesotans would support closing the locks in Minneapolis to prevent the spread of Asian carp.

“Minnesotans understand that fishing is not just a major part of our Minnesota economy, it is part of our quality of life and heritage," said state senator Amy Klobuchar. "That's why I convinced my colleagues in the Senate to pass my amendment closing the lock. The legislation needs to now pass the House."

Saturday
Jul202013

Asian Carp Infestation Worst in Mississippi, Missouri Basins

USGS bighead carp distribution map

Asian carp have been found in fisheries from Colorado to New Jersey and from North Dakota to Florida, according to a map released recently by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

 “Asian Carp Distribution in North America” displays the presence of bighead and silver carp at all life stages, as well as black carp and grass carp occurrences. Since three bighead carp have been collected in the western basin over the years by commercial fishermen, Lake Erie is one of the green shaded areas, which indicates the presence of at least one adult fish. (This is not the map shown above. Go to link to see more detailed map.)

Not surprisingly, the most intense infestation is in the Mississippi and Missouri River watersheds, including the Illinois River, which connects to Lake Michigan via the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

On the positive side, no Asian carp have been found above the canal’s electric barriers during the past two years, despite hundreds of interagency monitoring trips, including 192 hours of electrofishing and 82 miles of netting.

But on the southeast side of the Mississippi River watershed, meanwhile, Asian carp are a growing problem for the Tennessee River and especially Kentucky Lake.

"Asian Carp by the thousands are flooding Kentucky Lake, causing a problem for fishermen, regular boaters and the other fish. With no natural predators the Asian carp are single-handedly eating the entire food supply, reports WBBJ.