Monday, Nov 20, 2017
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Matt Markey

Tracking, public input join the fight against Asian carp

Michigan's Invasive Carp Challenge hopes to stop fish's spread

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    Asian carp can reach 100 pounds and dominate areas they reach by out-breeding and out-competing other fish. Bighead and silver carp consume large quantities of plankton, often a primary food source for young native species.

    ILLINOIS DNR

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The decades-long battle to keep invasive Asian carp from destroying the $7 billion dollar sportfishing industry on the Great Lakes has involved multiple branches of the federal government and numerous state agencies, along with countless hearings, symposiums, studies and conferences, and billions of tax dollars.

In a troubling sign that we are clearly not winning the fight — and we might not even be holding our ground — a couple of states in the wide war zone with Asian carp have adopted new tactics.

With what could be looked at as a combination of desperation and innovation, one will employ stealth and track the every move of these invading brutes, while another will resort to a cash reward for any methodology that secures the perimeter before the carp can enter the precious Great Lakes waterway.

RELATED: Army Corps’ report on Asian carp released

Minnesota, seemingly out on the frontier of the Asian carp conflict since its only Great Lakes waters are those on cold and clear Lake Superior, which has been deemed by fisheries biologists as the least hospitable host for Asian carp should these aggressive and prolific invaders gain entry, is more concerned about the Mississippi River system.

The Mississippi, which has been the major conduit for Asian carp movement since these fish escaped from southern fish farms in the 1970s, starts its 2,340 mile course in north-central Minnesota’s Lake Itasca. Asian carp have used the Mississippi to reach its Minnesota waters, while also showing up in the St. Croix River, which joins the Mississippi just southeast of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the Minnesota River, which connects with the Mississippi in the heart of the metroplex.

Minnesota biologists have captured a 37-pound, 43-inch bighead carp in the St. Croix River, and after surgically implanting a four-inch long tracking tag, released the fish back in the waterway. They will be using acoustic telemetry to track the fish and hopefully develop a much better understanding of its range, movements and behavior.

Eventually, it will be recaptured and euthanized, then examined to determine if it is a fertile, egg-bearing female.

“This new tool is another proactive step Minnesota is taking to prevent the spread of invasive species,” said Nick Frohnauer, Minnesota’s invasive fish program coordinator. “The more we can learn about these species, the more effectively we can continue to minimize their potential impact.”

For several years, biologists in Ohio have been using similar acoustic telemetry technology, implanted in fish captured in the Maumee River, to track the movements of walleye. Minnesota’s biologists had to get special permission from the state legislature to conduct their research, since they are putting a live invasive species back into the river system.

Under the current rules in place in Minnesota, any angler who catches one of the three species of Asian carp that pose the greatest threat — bighead, grass or silver carp — is required to immediately report it to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, take a photo of the fish and take the fish to the nearest fisheries office, or make arrangements for it to be picked up by a MDNR official.

“Invasive carp are rare in Minnesota, with typically just a few individual fish reported in the state each year,” Frohnauer said. “We can keep it that way with the public’s help, more research, and continued vigilance.”

In Michigan, cash is the incentive attached to the state’s new program seeking to get the creative minds of the public involved in the crusade to stop the invasion of Asian carp. The best solution or solutions could share up to $700,000 in awards provided by the state’s “Invasive Carp Challenge”.

“Invasive carp pose a serious and growing threat to the economy and ecology of our Great Lakes,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said as he introduced the cash-not-carp plan recently. “The Invasive Carp Challenge will tap into the creativity and expertise of the entrepreneurial community to find the best ways to protect Michigan’s most prized natural resource.”

Michigan, like Ohio, would likely see much more impact from an Asian carp intrusion than Minnesota would. The carp flourish in warmer, nutrient-rich waters and should they infiltrate the Great Lakes and become established, they could dominate the ecosystem in western Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and quite possibly the nearshore areas of Lakes Michigan and Huron.

With 3,288 miles of coastline on the Great Lakes, plus Lake St. Clair tucked between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, Michigan could find itself enveloped in Asian carp if these invasive fish reach the Great Lakes and reproduce there.

A heightened level of concern was reached in late June when an eight-pound silver carp was captured in the Chicago Area Waterway System, beyond the electric barrier designed to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes, and just nine miles from Lake Michigan. The Chicago Area Waterway System is a network of more than 100 miles of canals and manmade waterways designed to carry sewage away from the city and Lake Michigan, Chicago’s water supply. The canal system, which also sees significant barge traffic, has created an artificial connection between the Mississippi River system and the Great Lakes — a connection that provides the invasive Asian carp with a potential pathway to Lake Michigan.

The Invasive Carp Challenge hopes to utilize the inventive and resourceful minds of individuals in Michigan and throughout the world tin conjunction with the many government and research units to come up with new and innovative techniques and methodologies to prevent the carp from reaching the Great Lakes. “The challenge will accept solutions in any phase of development, from concept to design to field-tested models,” the state new release said.

Written proposals will be accepted online through the InnoCentive’s Challenge Center website innocentive.com through Oct. 31. A detailed description of the challenge, and the opportunity to review existing deterrent technologies for invasive carp, is available there, plus the option to submit proposed solutions. More information on the Invasive Carp Challenge is available at the michigan.gov/carpchallenge website.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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