With all the fears of those dreaded Asian carp, the ones that leap skyward and have injured many a boat passenger, coming across the Great Lakes waterway, observers now are monitoring yet another way these invaders might some day find their way into Western New York waters.
For more than a decade, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service personnel have been following the northward progress of bighead, silver and black carp up the Mississippi River system into places where that river connects with rivers, streams and canals that feed into Lake Michigan.
America’s Funniest Home Videos featured some of these carp pelting boaters as though it were some kind of slapstick comedy. The humor ebbs when the injury count and extent of damages are assessed after these joyrides.
Injury concerns also loom for what these exotic aquatic invaders could do to native fish populations. Despite their aerobatics, all three subspecies are notorious bottom feeders capable of consuming the eggs, fry and young-of-the-year of native fishes.
To retain Lake Ontario’s exceptional trout and salmon fishery and keep Lake Erie’s walleye, perch and bass populations stable, fishery folk are trying their best to identify ways these carp might be entering area waters.
A recent report from Pennsylvania and West Virginia state fishery officials indicates findings of environmental DNA (eDNA) from these exotic carp have been found in two water samples taken from the Ohio River.
USF&WS collected 200 samples from the upper Ohio River between Wheeling, W.Va. and Pittsburgh and discovered genetic materials in the water. None of these carp species were found during this study, which noted “… eDNA does not provide physical proof of the presence of live or dead Asian carp.”
The positive samples may have come from live or dead fish, bilge water, storm sewers or waterfowl that may have transported tissue material to the waters tested.
Nonetheless, the possibility of a back-door approach to Western New York waters could be over the Allegheny Mountains rather than across the Great Lakes Chain from Lake Michigan westward to Lake Huron and eventually into Lake Erie.
The Allegheny River feeds into the Ohio River at Pittsburgh and hydrology experts have pointed out extreme flooding from spring rains and snow-melt runoff could connect Allegheny River feeder streams with those entering Lake Erie.
The USF&WS service will continue these sampling studies in 2014 for areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Concerns have yet to be focused directly on New York State waters.
Along with adult carp coursing their way upstream in river watersheds, these exotic species might also arrive as juveniles captured among bait schools that are sold to anglers for fishing.
Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources has recently developed two videos to help anglers identify bighead, silver, grass and common carps and to identify juvenile Asian carp.
The second video clearly distinguishes smaller bighead and silver carp from the popular bait species anglers use such as emerald shiners, spot-tail shiners, gizzard shad and golden shiners. These videos can be viewed at Michigan.gov/asiancarp.