Arkansas hoping special commercial fishing season on lake might help combat Asian carp issues

LAKE VILLAGE, Ark. – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will open a special commercial fishing season on Lake Chicot to target Asian carp from Nov. 1-Dec. 31.

Asian carp, particularly silver carp and bighead carp, have been a nuisance to many waters connected to the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers since their escape from aquaculture and research facilities during floods in the 1970s. In addition to consuming vast amounts of plankton, which are the base of the food chain in many fisheries, silver carp have become a hazard on many waters where they are abundant because of their habit of jumping out of the water when startled.

Asian carp are one of the species biologists hope to prevent from spreading to new waters through the recently instituted ban on transporting live, wild caught bait.

“Young silver carp look similar to gizzard shad, and when someone who doesn’t know the difference throws a cast net below dams in the Arkansas River and other areas where the carp are found, there’s a chance of them being mixed in with the hundreds of shad that are caught,” said Bill Posey, AGFC assistant chief of fisheries, during the proposal of the new regulation. “Zebra mussels and a host of parasites and diseases also may be transported in perfectly healthy-looking fish when they’re taken from one body of water to the next as well.”

Lake Chicot has seen an increasing risk of danger to boaters from the silver carp since they were first found in the lake just over a decade ago.

“The first instance of Asian carp found in Chicot was during a population sample in 2005,” said Diana Andrews, AGFC regional fisheries supervisor in Monticello. “By 2007, they had grown large enough to cause conflicts with boating and recreation on the lake.”

Silver carp are not capable of reproducing in Lake Chicot, but they are abundant in the Mississippi River, which originally created the lake. When floods overtop the dams of the oxbow, many species of fish flush into the system, including the silver carp. The recent floods during 2016 completely overtopped the dam, which gave many non-native fish the opportunity to spread into the lake.

Andrews said she hopes commercial anglers will be able to help remove some of the silver carp from Chicot during the special commercial fishing season. Normally, Chicot is off limits to commercial harvest, so many commercial anglers may find the lure of a new resource enticing.

Andrews says a plant in Mississippi that processed the silver carp for exported food recently closed, but other plants that manufacture pet foods still pay for the fish as a protein base.

“We want to track how effective this effort is in removing the fish and how many anglers participate,” Andrews said. “If it’s successful, we can look at expanding these sorts of efforts in the future.”

— Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

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