MWCD lakes to be tested for Asian carp species

New Philadelphia, Ohio — The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) is helping fund efforts to prevent the potentially dangerous invasion of bighead and silver carp (also known as Asian carp) into the rivers, streams, and lakes in the Muskingum River Watershed.

The MWCD Board of Directors recently approved entering into a partnership agreement with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and will provide $46,000 to assist TNC and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife (ODOW) with an Asian carp monitoring program that will rely on testing water for evidence of Asian carp by testing for their environmental DNA (eDNA).

While there have been no confirmed reports of Asian carp being found in the Muskingum River and its tributaries, officials from the ODOW said that any detection of the presence of these fish in the river would require additional monitoring to determine their population status.

“We are concerned about these fish becoming established in the Muskingum River,” said John Navarro, aquatic invasive species program administrator for the ODOW. “The sampling that will be done in this program will provide valuable information to understand their status in the river.”

Asian carp are fast-growing, aggressive and adaptable fish that have the potential to outcompete native fish species for food and habitat in much of the mid-section of the United States. Asian carp escaped from fish farms in the southern portion of the country in the 1970s and quickly spread, and are a threat to invade the Great Lakes, too.

The Asian carp is a catchall name for species of silver, bighead, grass, and black carp originally from Southeast Asia. The huge, hard-headed silver carp also pose a threat to boaters since they leap out of the water when startled by boat engines, often colliding with people and causing injuries. Silver and bighead carp have been noted in the Ohio River near Portsmouth in the past year.

Voracious filter feeders, Asian carp can consume up to 20 percent of their body weight daily in plankton and can grow to more than 100 pounds. Plankton are small, floating organisms that form the foundation of the aquatic food chain and are vital to native fish.

If conditions in the Muskingum River Watershed appear to be favorable for Asian carp reproduction, the species may be able to enter the river and its feeder streams, tributaries and lakes, said John Stark, TNC freshwater director.

“When these situations occur, the Asian carp knock the native species down and essentially dominate a stream very quickly,” said Stark. “There’s a much better chance in the Muskingum River system to do something as a deterrent than anywhere else. Because of the Muskingum River locks and dams, there is an opportunity to have a quick deterrent introduced if needed.”

In some streams, the Asian carp have taken over as much as 95 percent of the fish population by weight. Recreation also has been negatively influenced by Asian carp populations, as fishing and boating trips declined drastically in the Illinois River when Asian carp populations expanded and many guides have quit scheduling trips in Kentucky, where the fish have grown in size and population.

The eDNA water sampling program in the Muskingum River Watershed will include 50 water samples to be taken over the next few months at each of seven locations, including the Tuscarawas River just upstream of Coshocton, the confluence of the Killbuck Creek and the Walhonding River, and five individual locations along the Muskingum River. Samples will be analyzed by researchers from the University of Notre Dame and University of Central Michigan and results will be reported to the ODOW and the MWCD.

“The MWCD is very concerned about any development of the Asian carp that could threaten the Muskingum River Watershed, and especially the MWCD lakes,” said Sean D. Logan, MWCD’s chief of conservation. “We look forward to the important information that this partnership for testing will provide for our watershed.”

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