By KEVIN BOWDEN
Flying Asian carp are making their presence known along the waterways of the Eastern United States, and the exotic fish continue to be a problem at Reelfoot Lake.
The species of fish were first introduced to catfish ponds in the United States in the 1970s as a way to manage algae in fish ponds. They have since found their way to streams and lakes across the Eastern United States and their migration north to the Great Lakes is being closely monitored by U.S. wildlife officials.
If you go online to Youtube and search flying carp, you’ll get 1,050 results with millions of views. Search Asian carp and you’ll get 2,880 results.
For fishermen, boaters, jet skiers and others who enjoy getting out on the water, the Asian carp are a real problem.
They have a voracious appetite that is having an impact on the ecosystem of lakes, streams and rivers. But it is their ability to project their bodies like small but powerful missiles that create a real health hazard for those out on the water.
David Haggard is a regional naturalist with Tennessee State Parks and has lived and worked at Reelfoot Lake since 1986. He said he first began to notice Asian carp at Reelfoot Lake in the late 1980s and their numbers have been increasing every year since then. Haggard said he frequently gets reports from those who have been out on the lake and have been bombarded by the leaping fish.
“In the last couple of years, their numbers have just exploded,” Haggard said.
“Last spring, during the floods, the fish migrated out of the river into the lake in waves,” he said. “They came in by the thousands. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Haggard said the Asian carp at Reelfoot Lake average about 10 to 20 pounds, but he said he’s seen some fish in the 70- to 80-pound range at the lake.
“I’ve seen a lot jump out that are as long as your arm,” he said. “They’re of significant size.”
Haggard said he isn’t aware of the fish causing any significant injuries to anyone on the lake, but he did say he has been hit by the flying fish and has been bruised by the impact.
Roy Logan is the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s wildlife officer for Obion County and he is very familiar with the Asian carp. He said the invasive species has been a problem “for the whole southern United States” for years. He said he first came into contact with one of the fish in 1994 at Cumberland City.
The fish have migrated into Reelfoot Lake from the Mississippi River by way of the Obion River. Logan said the fish are prolific breeders and have no natural predators, but they also need a current to breed. The current in rivers and streams help the fish reproduce, but unless there is a high water event at Reelfoot Lake there is no real threat for the fish to reproduce there.
Logan said the average size of the fish that are jumping into boats at Reelfoot Lake are around 25 pounds, but he said he had a report of a fish weighing 108 pounds about three years ago.
It is the vibration from a boat motor “that drives them crazy,” Logan said. The motor on a Go Devil boat “really drives them crazy,” he said.
The fact that Asian carp are filter feeders is what has fishermen and wildlife specialists concerned. Their presence at Reelfoot Lake could impact the population of other game fish.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 7.26.12