Latest bighead carp in Lake Pepin highlights potential Asian carp disaster

Commercial fisherman Myles Rolbiecki holding the 47-pound bighead carp he caught in Lake Pepin on Nov. 16. The Minnesota DNR issued a press release Wednesday sharing the fact that another bighead carp has been found in Lake Pepin. (The complete text of the release is at the bottom of this blog.) Bigheads also were found in Pepin in 2003 and 2007, and so far there hasn’t been any sign that they’re spawning or establishing permanent residence in the Upper Mississippi River.

That hasn’t stopped Ric Carlson, from Hanska, Minn., for continuing to raise the alarm about the potential destruction this aquatic invaders pose for the upper Great Lakes region. I profiled Carlson, a one-man wrecking crew hell-bent to keep these fish out of our waters, in my print Outdoor News column this week. He’s strong-willed, occasionally loud and opinionated, and we’re damn lucky he’s fighting this fight for our side.

You’ll see in the press release below that the state has an “action plan” to monitor Asian carp and tackle barriers to prevent their eventual passage into central Minnesota’s prime recreational fishing waters. I’m growing increasingly concerned that this action plan doesn’t go far enough.

Carlson has me wondering if perhaps the state’s plan has written off some of great river fisheries, particularly the Minnesota and Mississippi. The latter, of course, contains some of the best walleye fishing in the region – just ask those legions of Iowans who play bumper boats below Lock and Dam 3 at Red Wing every spring.

So far, there’s no evidence of them spawning in our rivers, but I can’t shake the feeling that the Minnesota River looks  a lot like the Illinois River. The latter of course contains more Asian carp than arguably any waterway on the planet – even those in Asia.

Carlson and a coalition in which he’s involved is working to push the new DFL-led Legislature next year to devote more resources to stopping carp. Perhaps we need to reevaluate the potential impacts of this fish on my old stomping grounds of southeast Minnesota’s Mississippi River.

In the meantime, here’s one scribe hoping Ric Carlson keeps up the good fight. Check out the coalition’s website at

Bighead carp caught by commercial fishermen in Lake Pepin

A 47-pound bighead carp was caught in a seine net by commercial fishermen on Nov. 16, in Lake Pepin near Frontenac, according to the Minnesota DNR.

Bighead carp, members of the Asian carp family, are nonnative species that can cause serious ecological problems as they spread into new waters.

While other adult bighead carp have been found in Lake Pepin and the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, this was the largest individual carp caught to date.

“This recent find is not surprising, as bighead carp were also found in Lake Pepin in 2003 and 2007,” said Tim Schlagenhaft of the DNR’s Mississippi River team at Lake City. “It adds more evidence that Asian carp continue to work their way up the Mississippi River.”   

This recent catch fits the pattern of occasional adult Asian carp captures from the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers over the past 15 years. Individual bighead carp were caught in the St. Croix River in 1996, 2011, and 2012, and four silver carp were caught from the Mississippi River between Winona and La Crosse since 2008.

Populations of bighead and silver carp are established in the Mississippi River and its tributaries downstream of pool 16 in Iowa. There is no indication bighead or silver carp are reproducing in Minnesota waters of the Mississippi or St. Croix rivers.

The DNR and other partners are aggressively implementing an action plan that was developed in 2011. This plan includes an active monitoring program involving fisheries surveys, commercial fishing, and eDNA testing. 

The plan also addresses construction of fish barriers at several sites including Lock and dam 1 and locations in southwestern Minnesota that are threatened by Asian carp coming up the Missouri River basin.  

The Minnesota Legislature appropriated $7.5 million in 2012 to design, construct and evaluate Asian carp barriers. The Legislature also approved funding for the Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi River to improve its effectiveness as a fish barrier.

Other options being discussed include closing the lock at Upper St. Anthony Falls to prevent passage of Asian carp. This would require congressional action.

The Legislature also appropriated funding in 2012 to establish an Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota. The center will focus on research to develop tools to monitor and control populations of Asian carp should they become established.

Bighead carp can weigh up to 110 pounds and silver carp up to 60 pounds. They are voracious eaters, capable of consuming 5 to 20 percent of their body weight each day. They feed on algae and other microscopic organisms, often outcompeting native fish for food. Scientists believe Asian carp could severely disrupt the aquatic ecosystems of Minnesota waters.

More information about Asian carp is available on the DNR’s website at

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