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Environmentalists fear bighead carp
Mammoth species threatens Great Lakes fish, leaps out of water and smacks boaters

By Gene Schabath / The Detroit News

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HARRISON TOWNSHIP -- A very large ecological headache -- a fish weighing up to 100 pounds with a nasty temper -- is heading toward the Great Lakes.
It's the bighead carp, a fish that not only threatens environmental havoc as it gobbles up almost everything in its path, but is also reputed to leap as high as 10 feet out of the water, smacking unsuspecting boaters and their passengers.
"I've heard that four men are on workmen's comp" for injuries suffered when they were walloped by the carp, said Dan Injerd, manager of the Lake Michigan Management Section of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The bighead species are native to Asia, where they are prized as food. They were brought to the United States in 1972 to clean out aquaculture ponds in Arkansas by sucking out plankton and algae. But a heavy rainstorm in 1994 flooded the ponds and the bigheads escaped into the Mississippi River basin.
As the species multiplied rapidly, the ecological balance of surrounding waters was altered dramatically. The bigheads gorge themselves on the food supply of native fish and have taken over some rivers and lakes, where boaters have been startled by their propensity to leap into the air when approached.
"Some of our staff have been hit several times by big carp that landed in research boats," said Jerry Rasmussen, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Rock Island, Ill.
What alarms local fish biologists is that two bighead carp --- one weighing 40 pounds -- were caught in fishing nets late last year in Lake Erie off of Pointe Pelee.
"The potential ecological damage would be huge," if bighead took up residency in Lake St. Clair, said Mike Thomas, a biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Lake St. Clair research station at the mouth of the Clinton River.
Thomas fears that the carp would gorge themselves on zooplankton -- a food source for young fish in Lake St. Clair.
"Lake St. Clair is not particularly rich with zooplankton and additional predation by bighead carp is not good," Thomas said. "Zooplankton are important for early stage and juvenile fish and this could hurt them."
Some native fish have been wiped out by the carp invasion elsewhere, and there's fear that that could happen here, Thomas said.
The bighead carp joins two other invasive species as ecological menaces -- the zebra mussel and round goby.
Both were accidentally introduced into the Great Lakes in the mid-1980s from the ballast water of a passing foreign freighter. The zebra mussel has wiped out the native clam population in Lake St. Clair and gobys have all but forced out several species of darters, a minnow-like fish.
Then there's the surprise bighead carp attacks.
"They are a hazard to boaters," said Thomas, who spends many days in a boat on Lake St. Clair doing his research. "They jump out of the water and land right in the boats."
"They are a very excitable fish --- apparently it is a genetic thing," said Rasmusen, from the fish and wildlife service. "I've seen them jump six feet out of the water."
The theory is the carp make these sudden leaps when they are startled by boat motors. That makes it even more frightening for Lake St. Clair boaters. The heart-shaped lake is one of the most congested in North America, loaded with noisy yachts and fishing boats.
In the eight years since their accidental release, the carp has spread quickly through the south and are now in at least 18 states. The Great lakes, and Lake St. Clair, could be next.
Illinois resource officials issued an ominous warning two weeks ago at the Great Lakes Commission annual meeting in Cleveland -- bighead carp are on the threshold of entering Lake Michigan. And if they reach lake Michigan, they will inhabit all of the Great Lakes and connecting waters.
Donald Vonnahme, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, told the group that the carp are in the Chicago Sanitary and Boat canal and by next spring could could be in Lake Michigan. After that warning, the Great Lakes Commission passed a resolution urging federal officials to immediately install a second electrical barrier in the canal, located 25 miles from Lake Michigan. The electrical barriers are designed to repel carp. The plan is to have a "killing zone" between the barriers in case carp elude the first electrical obstacle.
No mention was made of the bigheads in Lake Erie.
That doesn't surprise David Noakes, director of the Axlerod Institute of Ichthyology at Guelph University in Ontario. Scientists at Axlerod confirm that the huge fish caught last fall near Pte. Pelee were in fact bighead carp.
"No one is out looking for them in Lake Erie," said Noakes. "One was also found in Ohio, near Sandusky in 1995."
Noakes doubts that the Lake Erie bighead came from the Chicago canal because none have yet been found in Lake Michigan. To reach Lake Erie from the Chicago Canal, the carp would have to swim up through Lake Michigan, around The Straits of Mackinac, down Lake Huron through Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River into Lake St. Clair.
"They might have been dumped into Lake Erie for some misguided reason," Noakes said. "They are brought in live (from Asia) for food and there are no restrictions on them," Noakes said.
"We don't know if they are reproducing because no one is looking for them," Noakes said. "The danger is they grow very large and produce about one million eggs a year. They devour all of the zooplankton and can take over rivers and lakes."
Rasmussen said he received a more alarming update Friday.
"I just heard that they are 17 miles from the barrier," or 42 miles from Lake Michigan, Rasmussen said. "They have been marching 50 miles a year and now they are close to Lake Michigan. They have to be stopped."

You can reach Gene Schabath at (586) 468-3614 or [email protected]

h2o<---says look out at 60 mph.
 

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Well I think I've seen one of these before, form the discription sounds just liked it, i saw it jumping in the middle channel believe it or not coming out the chanel nto the markers...i was wondering what the hell it was it was huge
 

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if you see 'em, you bite 'em.

thats what i tell my dog "croix" when the birds eat the grass seed in the yard.

seems to work, so i offer the same advice to you all. if you see 'em, you bite 'em.

give it a shot. if we all stick together, we can bite the big head carp to extinction.


madman himself
 

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hook one,wow just the thought (lol) in a tournament thinkin you have king kong?Wonder how much we can get a pound?may be worth draggin it to the Detroit River and sellin it to a fish store.......
 
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