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Editor's column: Flipping and flying in a lake near you?

May 19, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

Asian carp are fish on crack. They're the carp's more athletic cousin. They can be such a spectacle that they should have their own exhibit at the zoo.

We've seen footage on TV of spooked Asian carp seemingly flying though the air as they propel themselves high out of the water. CNN did a bit on the issue and the reporter almost got knocked over by one that torpedoed itself onto the boat. It's quite a sight that has a bit of a "wow" factor, but area officials aren't laughing.

First of all, they're carp. That should be enough to turn all our stomachs. They're the bully on the block no one likes. Carp are worthless bottom feeders that wreak havoc on a lake's ecosystem. They're good-for-nothings. We only marvel at them because of their size. They're the reason God created winter fish kills.

Asian carp are just as dangerous to the underwater food chain as the carp that can be found in area lakes, but they cause problems above the water level as well with all their flying around. And while all the stories we've heard about Asian carp in the Upper Midwest have originated in or around the Mississippi River (cue the "it could never happen here" sound bite), but they've had a presence in the Missouri River system for some time, we're now being told that southwest Minnesota lakes might not be immune to the problem.

Two bighead carp were snagged in East Okoboji Lake in Iowa last August, and in March commercial fishermen reportedly caught 82 bighead carp and 55 silver carp in that area. A silver carp - the ones we see coming out of the water like rockets - was also caught in Spirit Lake, just below the Minnesota/Iowa border. That's why Minnesota is going on the offensive. As of April 30, waters in Jackson and Nobles counties have been designated as infested waters.

But there's more to be done. If you still think they might not ever affect lakes like Shetek, Sarah, Yankton, and Talcot, think again.

Ryan Doorenbos, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Windom, said the invasive fish could use the Rock and Little Sioux rivers as an expressway into the region. He compares their swimming ability to that of a Pacific salmon.

"These guys are excellent swimmers," he said. "What triggers them is basically a flood cue, and in this area of the state with tile lines flowing everywhere and the way rivers function we get a lot of water in short timeframes. These rivers come up real fast and they drop - these are cues the fish are reading when they're in the Mississippi River. When we get big rainfalls these fish are triggered and start moving north."

Doorenbos said the interconnectivity between dredge ditches, tile lines and watersheds only adds to the mix and increases the chances of Asian carp swimming their way to a lake near you. And assuming more flooding in the Upper Midwest won't take place in the future is irresponsible. The Upper Midwest is seemingly becoming more vulnerable to flooding every year, meaning those who watch over our waterways have to be on guard now more than ever.

"Watershed breaches are a concern to us," Doorenbos said. "We have water everywhere and most of it is connected in some way."

The Department of Natural Resources closed a diversion gate between the Rock and Little Sioux watersheds this spring, and Doorenbos said long-term plans could include permanently plugging the Herlein-Boote diversion to prevent future breaches.

Asian carp could also find their way into Lake Shetek in Murray County through its connection with the west fork of the Des Moines River because at certain times of the year, Doorenbos said, the Des Moines actually pushes water back into Shetek.

"It would be an easy connection for them, despite the dam they have at the Shetek outlet," he said. "The worse-case scenario, you would have some jumping fish there, but I hope to never find that out. We have not sampled Asian carp in this area yet; that's not to say it won't ever happen, but we're taking efforts to try and make that not happen by restricting commercial bait harvest and labeling waters as infested."

"Infested." That's an ugly word. But then again, we're talking about an ugly problem. Hopefully it won't become our problem.



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