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8/10/2010 10:12:00 AM
There's something fishy going on Wabash River: Asian carp causing problems

Arthur Foulkes, Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — What’s more surprising than seeing a big, 15-pound fish leaping high into the air on the Wabash River?

Dozens of similar fish jumping out of the river all at the same time.

Brendan Kearns, who enjoys taking friends out on his boat to explore the Wabash, was headed north on the river recently when he and Mark Kirby encountered hundreds of Asian Silver Carp shooting up out of the water.

On past river excursions, Kearns said it was not unusual to see a single Silver Carp jump in his boat’s wake every few minutes. But “on that Sunday [August 1], we saw more than usual,” Kearns said.

While Kearns and Kirby were on the river near Montezuma, the fish started jumping like popcorn kernels popping. “We estimated hundreds of them were jumping during that 30 to 40 second spread,” Kearns said.

Kearns, an avid photographer, videotaped the entire incident and later made it part of his Web site, www.purplepug.com. Once at the Web site, you can watch the video by clicking on “Videos” and then “Asian Carp.”

“It’s gone viral,” Kearns said of the short video, which was taken on the Wabash River north of Terre Haute.

The video shows hundreds of silver carp jumping out of the river all around the boat as it cruises near the river bank. On that day, five of the fish actually landed inside the boat, Kearns said. A week later, during another excursion, three of the large fish did the same.

“These things can jump ten feet in the air,” Kearns said.

The Silver Carp “will get spooked at the sound of oncoming boat motors and will jump out of the water and they become something of a recreational hazard,” said Phil Bloom, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “A boat will be coming along and the fish get spooked and they jump and the boater gets hit.”

But many people are more concerned about the environmental impact of the fish on native species.

There are two types of Asian carp of concern to environmental and other officials: The Big Head Carp, which can grow up to five feet long and weigh 100 pounds and the Silver Carp, which is known for its jumping ability, Bloom said.

The Big Head and Silver carp were first discovered in Indiana waters in the mid-1990s in the southwest tip of Indiana near the Ohio River, Bloom said. The state has monitored their presence ever since and some of the fish have more recently been discovered in the northern part of the Wabash River. In Illinois, some have been found very close to Lake Michigan.

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Interior declared the Asian carp to be an “invasive species.”

“They are a non-native species,” Bloom said. “We didn’t ask to get them. We don’t want them. They are difficult to control once they have established a population.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow has called for using poison to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is planning to build a mesh barrier to keep the carp from leaving the Wabash River system and entering a river system that connects to Lake Erie.

For now, however, there is no question the carp are in the Wabash near Terre Haute. On another excursion recently, Kearns said he encountered hundreds of the fish in the river near Fairbanks Park.

“They are all along the river right now,” Kearns said.

Some Asian carp have been in the United States for well over 100 years. But the Big Head and Silver carp were introduced much more recently in the southern United States by fish farmers. The farmers used the fish, which are bottom-feeders, to keep Cat Fish ponds clean, Bloom said. Flooding apparently allowed the fish to escape controlled farms and enter natural waterways, he said.

Now that they are farther north, wildlife officials definitely don’t want them around.

“If you catch one, don’t throw it back,” Bloom said. In fact, it’s illegal to return an Asian carp to the water, he said. “Kill it and throw it away or take it home and eat it. They are edible.”

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