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Bighead Asian carp discovered in Lake Pepin (11/02/2003)
An exotic Asian carp species that causes biological and social problems has been discovered in Lake Pepin, a large, twenty-one mile pool of the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota.

The fish, a 23-pound bighead carp, was captured Oct. 23 by three commercial fishermen who had lifted a seine near Lacupolis, Minn. The fishermen transported the strange looking carp to the Department of Natural Resources' office at Lake City, where experts confirmed it was a species whose existence in Minnesota had been speculated but never confirmed.

"The discovery is significant for four reasons," said Jay Rendall, DNR exotics species coordinator. "First, this represents the northernmost known presence of bighead carp, an exotic species that entered the Mississippi River in the deep south and has been working its way north for years. Second, Asian carp have the potential to make significant changes to native fish and wildlife populations. Third, once they inhabit a river system it is unlikely they can be eliminated. And finally, control to reduce harmful impacts would certainly have a high cost and require significant effort."

The discovery comes on the heels of a recent meeting of state and federal officials to identify cost-effective and practical strategies to prevent the further northward movement of Asian carp into Minnesota and Wisconsin. Natural resource experts at that meeting discussed the practicality of electric barriers, barriers that use walls of bubbles, sound or both, and genetic interference techniques that would prevent the fish from producing female offspring.

"We assembled an inter-agency team of experts from Midwest states to address Asian carp because a solution will require cooperation from many organizations," said Rendall. "After reviewing an electrical barrier proposal that was costly and potentially problematic, we agreed to identify other techniques that are likely to succeed at less public cost." Recommendations are expected in about five months.

Asian carp pose considerable concern as they have the potential to enter about one-third of Minnesota's waters and cause widespread havoc with native fish and shellfish habitats and food. Though it is far too early to know their full impact on Minnesota's lake and river systems, there will be an impact. To date, most Asian carp appear to be at or below Pool 9 of the Mississippi River near the Iowa border.

Asian carp were imported to the U.S. for use in the aquaculture industry. Some escaped into the wild and others were intentionally released. Over time, they have become highly abundant in some waters. In some Missouri waters they represent over 90 percent of the fish biomass.

Jack Wingate, DNR fisheries research manager, said DNR crews will do additional test netting this fall to assess the extent of the carp's presence in Lake Pepin and other stretches of the Mississippi River. He urged anglers and commercial fishermen to report any unusual fish. "There's still a window of opportunity to prevent the spread of this species via the Mississippi River and its tributaries," said Wingate. "The more information we receive from the public the better off we will be."

The three Asian carp species of most immediate concern are the grass, silver and bighead carp species. Bighead carp can weight over 60 pounds. They were imported into Arkansas in 1972 and first appeared in the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the 1980s. The Iowa DNR reports bighead carp are found in large numbers below Lock and Dam 19. Grass carp were imported to aquaculture facilities in 1963 and are now present in most states. They consume native aquatic plants that are valuable parts of ecosystems. They have been found in only two Minnesota waters: the Mississippi River near Winona and in Okamanpeedan Lake on the border with Iowa. An Arkansas fish farmer imported silver carp into the U.S. in 1973. Today, they are found in large numbers in the Mississippi River south of Minnesota. This fish eats plankton that is the foundation of much of the aquatic food chain. 


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