By Howard Meyerson
ST. JOSEPH – State fisheries personnel were out in force on the St. Joseph River this week looking to refine techniques for finding Asian Carp. Neither Silver nor
Bighead Carp have been found in the river, but state officials say the training exercise is necessary to develop an effective rapid response plan in case they appear.
“It is practice and preparation for us,” said Jay Wesley, the DNR’s southwest Michigan fisheries unit coordinator. “Our staff doesn’t get a lot of experience using gear like blocking nets strung across a river.
“We developed an Asian Carp management plan a couple of years ago. It called for getting ready and prepared to use different techniques. We got funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to help make that happen.”
The nearly $300,000 grant paid for two components, a “table-top” meeting of the minds and a field exercise, according to Nick Popoff, the agency’s tribal and aquatic species affairs manager.
The table-top session examined every possible scenario and determined an appropriate state response, all of which will go into the state’s Asian Carp action plan.
The field exercise compared methods for finding and collecting Asian Carp if ever they are reported in the river.
“We have no evidence of Silver or Bighead Carp in the St. Joe,” said Popoff, but we do have a history of catching Grass Carp there. We wanted to go in and try to get those out and see if they are reproducing.”
Silver and Bighead Carp are the Asian Carp species of most concern. The St. Joseph River has also been identified as a larger river system close enough to Chicago where they could show up if they get beyond the electric barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
Grass carp are a prohibited species in Michigan, but the state of Indiana allows private ponds to be stocked with hybrid, grass-carp, according to Wesley. They are used to control algae and vegetation. Triploid Grass Carp are sterile and genetically incapable of reproducing.
“We often get reports of them in the St. Joe,” Wesley said. “In previous electro-shocking surveys we collected them and sent samples to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure they were triploid and could not reproduce.
“But, last year we saw one that was diploid and may be able to reproduce. Our concern with the Grass Carp is that they eat rooted vegetation. The go right to town and eat a lot. Our fear is if they get in and reproduce it would eliminate a lot of vegetation in lakes and rivers. It’s not a big threat to the Great Lakes proper, but they would be a threat to inland and coastal areas.”
Approximately 30 DNR fisheries staff participated in the exercise this week which involved netting, marking and releasing common carp, quillbacks and black buffalo. The eight crews were to find as many of those marked fish as they could, using gillnets and electro-shocking devices. Both are preferred non-lethal approaches for capturing fish rather than turning to Rotenone, a chemical compound that would kill all the fish in the river segment.
“We are comparing the efficiency of using certain gear and testing our preparedness to get our on the river on short notice,” Wesley said. “We typically survey with electro-shocking gear. We incorporated gillnets to see if the numbers go up.
“We’re pretending that someone caught an Asian Carp in the section and are checking to see if there are any more.”
The exercise and techniques used this week could be applied to any large river system, according to Wesley. It was also an opportunity to practice developing an emergency response and command structure.
“In fisheries we don’t have a lot of that kind of experience, not like the staff in forest management in the case of wildfires,” Wesley said.
© 2013 Howard Meyerson