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Asian carp advance reaching a tipping point?

Posted on March 9, 2012

Outdoor News broke the story last week of the silver carp turning up in a seine net on Pool 6 of the Mississippi near Winona. (The river-bottom country where this scribe learned to hunt and fish.) Commercial fisherman Tim Adams and his crew turned up a hat trick of Asian carp in the same net – a bighead, silver, and grass carp. Simultaneously, a commentary that Gov. Mark Dayton filed with Outdoor News began appearing in other publications and websites.

My sense is that concern, and downright anger, about the steady advance of Asian carp has reached critical mass. Today a coalition of sportsmen, environmentalists, and property owners declared their support for new federal legislation aimed at stopping the advance of Asian carp into Minnesota’s waters.

A group of legislators introduced the Upper Mississippi Conservation and River Protection Act (Upper Mississippi CARP Act) earlier this week. The bill would require the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock be closed in the event that Asian carp are found close to the lock.

U.S. senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken as well as representatives Keith Ellison, Erik Paulsen, and Tim Walz have signed on. Gov. Dayton and the Minnesota DNR also support the legislation.

The bill would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study on closing the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock, and to examine the possibility of using other control methods, such as modifying lock operations and installing alternative barriers, to stop the spread of Asian carp.

“Minnesota’s hunters and anglers applaud this new legislation to protect our wildlife heritage from Asian carp,” said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation (and the 2011 Outdoor News Man of the Year) in a press release. “Asian carp provide a clear and present danger to Minnesota’s vast natural resources. The time for action is now.”

Although positive eDNA tests of Asian carp were detected in the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers near the Twin Cities in 2011, the silver carp that Outdoor News reported last week marks the farthest upstream one of these fish actually has been found.

This past weekend, I chatted with Steve McComas, of St. Paul-based Bluewater Science, about the Winona-area silver carp discovery. Part of me wondered if silvers, which now dominate the Illinois River, could survive in the colder Upper Mississippi River. Last Thursday’s find would seem to suggest they can.

McComas said he wasn’t surprised one appeared this far north, and he’s never doubted whether they could a handle Minnesota winter. Can they adapt to thrive in this region, as they have in central Illinois? And the biggest question: Can they spawn here? If so, look out: The walleye- and catfish-rich Mississippi I grew up fishing might best be suited for silver carp whacking tournaments. (No joke, this has become an actual sport on the Illinois River.)

Some people are talking smart about how Asian carp won’t be a big deal if they reach the Great Lakes or the Minnesota rivers and lakes above the Twin Cities. I think we have to assume worst case.

Maybe only a couple percent of the Asian carp that somehow swim up the Mississippi or reach Lake Michigan survive our area’s tough winters. We know from basic evolution that their offspring will be even more likely to adapt and thrive in this new environment. These animals have short life cycles, so what initially doesn’t appear to be a problem can change in a matter of a few years – right before our eyes.

Another long-time friend of Outdoor News (and a key driver of the dedicated funding amendment), Dave Zentner, gets the last word in this blog. Zentner’s been a longtime regional leader of the Izaak Walton League of America ad he supports this new federal bill.

“The legislation is critical and we need every member of the Minnesota delegation on board. We can’t let the perfect get in the way of good. The water assets of the state are at risk and this federal legislation will help ensure their future.”

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