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Carp Expert: They’re Probably Coming, But We Don’t Know What That Means

October 15, 2013Patrick NunnallyEvents, Former Featured PostsComments Off on Carp Expert: They’re Probably Coming, But We Don’t Know What That Means

Leaping Silver CarpA week ago, the Freshwater Society and the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota sponsored the most recent lecture in the Moos Family Lecture Series, highlighting challenges to water issues in the region.  Dr. Duane Chapman spoke on “The Biology and Management of Asian Carps:  Lessons for Minnesota.”

Not surprisingly, the lessons were mixed, although the news coverage in MinnPost.com and other online sources led with optimism, “Asian carp can be controlled,” for example.  That much is certainly true; Chapman made the point very clearly that the carps are not an unstoppable force of Armageddon inexorably moving north and threatening to undo decades of work making our rivers attractive and accessible.

Which is by no means to say that we should stop our vigilance against the invasive fish.  Wherever populations have become established, very substantial changes to the aquatic ecology have followed.  The changes have been different in rivers from lakes, and vary by species of carp and the part of the previous ecosystem that has been most affected.  But make no mistake: the carps that are coming are trouble, and we need to continue policy efforts, research agendas, and communication campaigns to prepare for their coming.

Chapman’s lecture, and the panel discussion that followed, were both well worth hearing, and if you missed the event last week, you’re in luck because the Freshwater Society has a video of the talk and slides available on its web site.  Some of my key takeaways, which should by no means be understood as a complete sense of the argument, included:

  • we need to know a lot more about the biology of these fish, the physical environment (water temperature, speed, bed surfaces) they live in, and the ecology around them (what eats them? what do they eat?);
  • these subjects aren’t rocket science; they’re much harder, because there are so many moving parts, all of which adjust as other conditions adjust;
  • some of the four carps species can probably arrive in the Twin Cities river environments (which include the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix rivers), and can probably survive, but the capacity to reproduce and establish a reproducing population is quite unknown at this time;
  • the carps seem to require floodplain lakes as habitats where the juveniles grow the most.  These lakes would thus seem to be good places to target anti-carps measures;
  • we don’t know if areas of the Minnesota River upstream of the Twin Cities might be more susceptible to them than the Twin Cities itself.  In other words, the Mississippi River in Pool 2 (St. Paul to Hastings) might not be a good place for them to get established, but they may be able to pass through Pool 2 and establish damaging populations in the Minnesota River, which comes into the Mississippi near the MSP airport;
  • south of here, in the Illinois River where carp infestations have become legendary on YouTube, hundreds of thousands of fish are removed every day by commercial fishermen.  This effort seems to be having some results, as the average size of the fish being taken has gotten smaller.
  • We have some time in Minnesota to be working on this, and now is the time to be working.  If we wait until they’re a problem, then the damage is done. (My emphasis).

A good place to learn what individuals can do in the Asian carps struggle is the web site of the Stop Carp Coalition, The federal government, which has a number of agencies working on various aspects of the problem has a web site clearinghouse of information, but that site is unfortunately unavailable right now because of the government shutdown.

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