Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Matt Markey

No panic, just work to do after Asian carp news

The news over the weekend landed with a thud in most quarters -- Asian carp DNA had been found in water samples taken from Sandusky Bay and the Lake Erie waters of north Maumee Bay.

In a basic translation, that meant the invasive fish had been in those waters at some point, and left its fingerprints, or its tracks in the snow.

The samples had been collected a year ago as part of a wide-ranging study conducted by a team of researchers from Notre Dame, in conjunction with fisheries biologists from Ohio, Michigan, and the federal government.

When the results flashed positive that bighead carp DNA was present in the Lake Erie samples, the reaction to the news covered the emotional gamut.

The myriad partners with a deeply vested interest in the long-term health of the Great Lakes -- fishermen, conservationists, boaters, environmentalists, operators of tourist-related businesses, and lake lovers in general -- shared shock, outrage, sadness, anger, and resentment.

The threat posed by the invasive fish, which have dominated large sections of the Mississippi River system since they began infiltrating it about two decades ago, has been well-publicized.

When word came out that the DNA of the carp was present in a number of samples from Lake Erie, there was no frantic call to man the battle stations.

The fisheries watchdogs from both Ohio and Michigan were already on the case, working surveillance out on the front lines.

"We have been aware of this threat for some time now and have had a variety of active assessment programs already in place," said Jeff Tyson, fisheries biologist supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit in Sandusky.

The Ohio fisheries folks were in the water late last week, as soon as word came in from South Bend that the team in the lab had confirmed the Asian carp DNA was present in the samples. The Ohio biologists were netting fish and using the electrical shocking boat to bring fish to the surface.

No Asian carp were found, but the search goes on. Tyson said this week boats from the Ohio side will conduct their regularly scheduled bottom trawl netting to assess this year's hatch of walleye and perch, and certainly will be on the lookout for adult Asian carp at the same time.

They will do additional assessments in the nearshore waters of Lake Erie and conduct more water sampling, looking for the continued presence of the Asian carp environmental DNA (eDNA).

"We'll keep looking, keep the assessments going, and work with all of the other parties that are involved in this effort," Tyson said. "We need to understand if we have a real issue with these fish, or if the DNA is the result of just random live releases of the carp taking place. If we run across live Asian carp, we will react accordingly."

Tammy Newcomb with the Michigan DNR said the cooperation of the various entities is critical in the efforts to monitor the lake for the presence of Asian carp.

"We are all working together on this," she said. "You have the agencies from Ohio and Michigan, plus the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service all involved. We're also making sure to communicate with the commercial fishermen who work the lake, since they are likely the ones who would have the first opportunity to come in contact with any live Asian carp."

Three live adult bighead carp were netted in Lake Erie more than 10 years ago, with one found in Sandusky Bay, one off Cedar Point, and one near Point Pelee in Canadian waters.

"It doesn't surprise me that some of these fish are swimming around out there," said Tyson, who has worked on Lake Erie for 18 years. "We can assume that they are likely the result of individual releases, but of course we don't know that for certain. What we can do right now and will continue to do is monitor and assess the situation, and see what we find. Nobody is sitting around doing nothing."

LENAWEE COUNTY GRASS CARP: Biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Fisheries Division will be out on Marrs Lake this week electroshocking and netting fish in an attempt to remove the invasive Asian grass carp from the lake.

Marrs Lake, located off Michigan Route 50, just south of U.S. 12 and west of Onstead Highway, was the site of recent sampling efforts by the DNR when one adult grass carp was removed and at least three more sighted. Testing will be conducted on nearby Washington, Wolf, and Allen lakes to determine if the grass carp have spread to those connected bodies of water.

Grass carp are one of the four species of fish that fall under the collective Asian carp tag. Grass carp are not considered as significant a threat as bighead and silver carp, but they consume both beneficial and nuisance types of aquatic vegetation and can significantly change the habitat in small lakes, such as Marrs.

Grass carp are illegal to possess or stock in either public or private waters in Michigan.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.

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