Trying to stop, or at least slow, the invasion of bighead and silver carp is the purpose of a proposed new state fishing regulation that would make it illegal to transfer live bait fish from one public body of water to another in Oklahoma.
Bighead and silver carp are a large Asian species of fish that was introduced in the United States in the early '90s. Since then, their population has been growing in the Mississippi River and Missouri River drainages.
Despite their recent arrival, the Asian carps are already the most abundant large fish (5 pounds or more) in the lower Missouri River, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Silver carp react to the sounds of outboard motors by jumping into the air and are the subject of numerous videos on the Internet. Sometimes they jump right into the boat and other times strike passengers.
Biologists for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation have documented the Asian carps in portions of the Red River and its tributaries and in the Neosho River in northeast Oklahoma.
“That is obviously a huge concern,” said Curtis Tackett, aquatic nuisance biologist for the Wildlife Department, of the carps' presence in the Neosho River. “They are competing with paddlefish for plankton.”
The Neosho River is a thriving fishery for paddlefish, which feed by filtering zooplankton. The Asian carps are in direction competition with paddlefish for food and with juvenile fish of other species which also rely on plankton as a food source.
“They crowd out the other species and the food sources are diminished,” Tackett said of the Asian carps.
“In other river systems where they have completely taken over, like in the East and other rivers that branch off from the Mississippi River, you are looking at 98 percent of the fish species there now made up of bighead and silver carp. They are very prolific and reproduce and a very high rate.”
State wildlife officials don't want that to happen in Oklahoma and are proposing a new fishing regulation that would prevent anglers from taking live bait fish from one lake or river to another.
It's common for anglers and fishing guides to capture live baitfish, such as shad, at one location and transport them to another lake and use them as bait.
State wildlife officials fear juvenile bighead or silver carp also could get caught along with the baitfish, and anglers might unknowingly put them into new lake or river.
“It takes one net full of shad below Denison (Dam) and taking them up to Texoma, and you might have introduced them right there,” Tackett said.
Lakes such as Sooner and Skiatook have small populations of shad, and anglers there often catch their baitfish at another body of water, Tackett said.
The bighead and silver carp invasion in Oklahoma waters seems isolated for now, Tackett said.
“But in some our surveys, we were finding males and females of both species and the females were full of eggs,” Tackett said. “Are they reproducing (in Oklahoma)? We haven't done enough surveys to find that out, but it's definitely a possibility.”
Tackett said it's very difficult to keep the Asian carps out of Oklahoma waters.
“Once you get them, you are stuck with managing them,” he said. “It's really a hard issue to tackle, but this (the proposed regulation) is our best shot at it for now.”
And Tackett has seen firsthand the jumping ability of the silver carp during an electrofishing survey on the Kiamichi River last summer.
“We actually had two silver carp jump in the boat,” he said.
HUNTING AND FISHING REGULATIONS
A complete list of proposed new hunting and fishing regulations for 2013 can be found on the Wildlife Department's website, www.wildlifedepartment.
The public comment period on the proposals is open through Jan. 18. A public hearing on proposals is scheduled Jan. 8 in Oklahoma City at 7 p.m. at the Wildlife Department's headquarters, 1801 N. Lincoln.