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Not the best news

July 16, 2012 - Steve Murch
It's a sad coincidence that the first day of the Brown Trout Festival was also the day officials announced that genetic material from Asian carp was found in Lake Erie water samples from last summer. The battle to stop Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan at the Illinois River has been going on for a few years. A couple of years ago came reports the fish were found in inland waters in Indiana, proving they were finding ways to move to different bodies of waters, and concern grew about them entering the Great Lakes from the east side of the Lower Peninsula.

John Flesher covers environmental issues or the Associated Press, and does a terrific job of it. He wrote the story Friday about the discovery. He wrote:

“Researchers with the University of Notre Dame, Central Michigan University and The Nature Conservancy detected DNA from the invasive fish this week when examining more than 400 samples taken in August 2011. It’s the first time DNA from bighead and silver carp has turned up in Lake Erie, although three bighead were caught there between 1995 and 2000.

“Scientists are uncertain about whether carp DNA signals the presence of actual fish, but the findings are unsettling because experts have described Erie as the lake that could suffer the biggest harm from an Asian carp incursion. Some say the DNA could be from other sources, such as feces from fish-eating birds.”

Of course it doesn't take much imagination to figure the carp could find their way to Lake Huron and Thunder Bay, if indeed they are present in Lake Erie — and that would be unsettling. We've seen reports and heard stories about how much they have ruined or completely altered the ecosystem of rivers feeding the Mississippi River. If they somehow survive the cold winters of the Great Lakes, we can only imagine how much devastation they could cause to our ecosystem up here.

“The number of alternative explanations is dropping precipitously,” Chris Jerde, a Notre Dame biologist and member of the team that discovered the DNA, told the AP about how the DNA was found in the lake. “It’s still not a game-over situation. We don’t know how many fish there may be at this point. But the alarm bell has been sounded.”

What makes it worse is that it looks like this might be the best fishing for the Brown Trout Festival in a number of years.

“We have a lot of chinooks, an average amount of lake trout, but walleye look the best this year. Walleye fishers will have a lot of fun,” Jim Johnson, lead researcher of the Alpena DNR station, told The News in a story that was published in our festival supplement last week.

Johnson said there are a surprisingly high number of Atlantic salmon and that wild lake trout, meaning they haven't come from planting, are becoming self-sustaining.

Then in Monday's story on the early fishing during the tournament, Tournament Director Doug Niergarth said “steelhead and Atlantic salmon are going strong, and reports of emaciated fish are less common now than immediately after the fish die-off around 2006. Both he and weigh master Kyle Urban attributed the slight but apparent uptick in specimen and population sizes to a number of possible factors, including the waning influence of certain invasive species. Urban said some fish species adapt to particular invasives better than others; salmon, for instance, are ill-suited to prey on the invasive goby fish, while lake trout and walleye have incorporated them into their diets; and Niergarth suggested the cannibalizing effect of the invasives on one another may finally be taking a toll.”

So will the fish survive or adapt if Asian carp are in the Great Lakes and migrate to upper Lake Huron and Thunder Bay? We won't know that until it happens. Hopefully we won't have to find out because if they do and the ecosystem can't survive the onslaught it could ruin more than just the Brown Trout Festival and recreational fishing.


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