12/9/09

All hands on deck in the fight to stop Asian carp


Now that Asian carp DNA has been detected beyond the electric barrier—a mere seven miles from Lake Michigan—it’s even more important for anglers and boaters to watch out for these species and help reduce their numbers.

These fish pose a considerable risk for the health of Lake Michigan and all the Great Lakes. Both bighead and silver carp, known as Asian carp, feed on plankton which is the base of the aquatic food chain. “They can compete directly with native organisms including mussels, all young fishes and some adult fish,” said Pat Charlebois, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant aquatic invasives specialist.

So far, the fish haven't actually been seen beyond the barrier--only water samples taken from various sites in the Chicago waterways have tested positive for their DNA. And, during the recent deliberate fish kill in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, one Asian carp was found downstream of the barrier site.

“People who spend time out on lakes and rivers are usually the first to spot new species,” said Charlebois. “To know with certainty whether the carp are beyond the barrier, we are really counting on their help in reporting any sightings.”

Asian carp have noteworthy differences from other carp species in terms of appearance. The key to recognizing them is their extremely low set eyes and their scales, which are much smaller than other carp. And while it has been reported that the Asian carp can grow to as much as 60 pounds in Midwest waters, most of these fish are likely to be much smaller than that.

If you think you’ve caught an Asian carp in Chicago area waters, it’s important to report this to Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (847-242-6440), the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (309-968-7531) or the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (317-234-3883). Note the exact location and if possible, freeze the specimen in a sealed plastic bag.

If you are fishing downstream of the barrier where Asian carp are plentiful, you can do your part to reduce their numbers by catching and cooking them. “At this point, we don’t know how the carp got to where they are in the Chicago waterways,” said Charlebois. “There are a number of possibilities. However, we can lessen their desire to move to less crowded areas such as Lake Michigan, by reducing their downstream numbers.”

Because Asian carp are filter feeders, traditional fishing methods don’t work. “In our research we found that the most successful ways to catch Asian carp are by bowfishing, using landing nets to catch jumping carp, which I'm not recommending because of safety concerns, and by snagging using trotlines, jigs or dough balls,” explained Charlebois.

On the plus side, Asian carp meat is tasty, surprisingly, so keep your catch. “They taste like cod,” said Charlebois. “You can cook them a number of different ways and use some great recipes.”

For more information on catching, cleaning and cooking Asian carp, visit www.iiseagrant.org/asiancarp. There, you can also order the Bighead and Silver Carp WATCH card, which provides general characteristics of Asian carp, including both photographs and drawings. For a free copy, contact Susan White. For more information on Asian carp management, visit Asian Carp Management.

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