There is good news and bad news about Asian carp.
First the bad news: The dreaded bighead carp have been detected in Lake Erie.
Now the good news: Only the DNA for bighead carp has been found in a few water samples. That does not mean there is a bighead population present. But … fish management officials are concerned to the point of stepping up water sampling, trap-netting, electro-fishing and gill-netting.
“(Lake Erie) is Ohio’s greatest resource and our main objective is to keep it healthy,” said Rich Carter, executive fish management and research administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. “The DNA findings have put Ohio fish and wildlife officers on high alert and marshaled our immediate action. In response to these findings, electro-shocking and netting in the identified areas of Sandusky Bay have already been completed and no Asian carp were found. Testing and monitoring will continue and we will work with Michigan and our other management partners to develop a coordinated approach to defining the status of Asian carp in Lake Erie.”
Carter said Asian carp have actually been caught in Lake Erie, but they are few and far between enough to allow one to believe there is no population. The first was caught in 1995 and two more were caught in 2000. Both times, the fish were caught by commercial netters and passed along to the Division of Wildlife for testing.
The three carp were thoroughly examined and tested. Checking growth indicators on all three fish showed none of the fish originated in Lake Erie, suggesting they might have been dumped into the lake.
The recent eDNA (eDNA is environmental DNA, which means the testing came from water samples, not actual fish) was detected in water samples taken from Sandusky and north Maumee bays. The positive samples were among 417 taken from Lake Erie in August 2011 and more than 2,000 samples taken from the Great Lakes since 2010.
The Lake Erie batch was recently analyzed and test results were confirmed. The six positive samples represent less than 1.5 percent of the Lake Erie samples. Four samples from Sandusky Bay, in Ohio waters, tested positive for bighead carp eDNA, while two samples from north Maumee Bay, in Michigan waters, were positive for silver carp eDNA. No silver carp have ever been caught in Lake Erie, Carter said.
While the discovery of eDNA does not indicate Asian Carp have begun to reproduce in Lake Erie, Carter pointed out his department and their counterparts in Michigan, are identifying areas that might be conducive for carp spawning – such as the shallow Sandusky and Maumee bays – and will step up testing.
Bighead and silver carp can ruin a fishery in a few years of development. Places like the Illinois River have been infested by the carp that can grow to 50 pounds and jump several feet above the water surface, making it unsafe for boaters. But the major threat is to the ecosystem. Large areas of several rivers and bays have been devastated by Asian carp.
Carter said commercial netters have been put on alert to identify and report any Asian carp found in their nets. Sport fishermen should also learn to identify Asian carp. If one is caught, it should be preserved and sent to Division of Wildlife officials.
A video demonstrating how to identify bighead and silver carp can be viewed on the USFWS YouTube channel at youtube.com/watch?v=B49OWrCRs38.
For more information, visit wildohio.com.