Mississippi gets aggressive with Asian carp

By The Associated Press

HERNANDO, Miss. (AP) — With Asian carp causing headaches on lakes and rivers across the country, conservation officials are trying all sorts of things to get rid of them.

In Mississippi, conservation officials are declaring war on the pesky invasive species — and they’re using giant, prehistoric-looking fish with rows of jagged teeth as their super soldiers.

Fisheries biologists from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks recently released 41 alligator gar fingerlings into Bee Lake, a 400-acre oxbow off the Yazoo River in west-central Mississippi.

Their hope is that the gar will grow quickly while feasting on the carp that were washed into Bee Lake from the Yazoo River during the historic floods that drenched Mississippi during the spring.

If the experiment is a success, gar could be used all over the state — and perhaps all over the country — to control the Asian troublemakers.

“The gar that were released into Bee Lake were small — about the size of a threadfin shad,” said Dennis Riecke, a fisheries biologist with MDWFP.

“But they grow really fast, and they should be feeding on carp soon.”

Asian carp, which are known for their incredible leaping ability, are an invasive species that was originally imported to the U.S. to help control aquatic vegetation.

They were meant to be kept in confined areas, but a severe flood during the early 1990s helped the troublesome fish find their way into major waterways all over the country.

The fish have multiplied quickly while eating the same food as vital native species like shad and bluegill. As a result, those native species have suffered in places where carp populations are highest.

The carp sometimes grow as large as 50 pounds, and they have no real predators once they reach adulthood. That’s where the alligator gar comes in.

Gar are often referred to as “living dinosaurs” because of their prehistoric-looking snouts that are filled with sharp, jagged teeth. They’ve been known to reach weights of 200 pounds or more, and they were common across the Mid-South before commercial and recreational fishermen took a harsh toll on their numbers.

If the gar can gain a foothold in places like Bee Lake, the Asian carp will no longer lead a worry-free existence.

“That’s certainly what we’re hoping will happen,” said Jim Walker, a communications specialist with MDWFP. “We want to see those gar grow big, and we want to see the Asian carp on the run for a change.”

Riecke said the results of the project won’t be immediately clear. He and other fisheries officials plan to monitor the growth and reproduction rates of the gar each year by using an electro-boat — a special rig that shocks fish to the surface without injuring or killing them.

“What we really want to see is lots of small gar,” Riecke said. “That’ll tell us the gar are reproducing naturally in the lake. Then when it comes to the carp, obviously we want to see their numbers go down as the gar numbers go up.”

The small gar released into Bee Lake were fitted with special tags, so they can be easily identified by fishermen.

Fishermen who catch a tagged gar from Bee Lake are encouraged to release the fish unharmed.