- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

MORGAN CITY, La. (AP) - Stories are circulating in the camps that dot the waterways of south Louisiana about large fish launching their bodies out of the water and into the path of boats carrying fishermen and hunters.

The fishermen are talking about the Asian carp, an invasive fish that has taken over some waterways in Northern states and has been moving South.

“I spent my life out on the water, and it’s changing. It’s getting more dangerous, and it’s all because of one fish,” said 61-year-old Jerry Rivere on a recent trip to the Atchafalaya River basin.

Although collectively called Asian carp, the fish are actually a number of species. The two most prevalent in Louisiana are the bighead and silver carp.

Imported to the United States to help control algae growth in catfish ponds, the fish escaped into the Mississippi River. They have become the target of a multimillion-dollar effort in the North to keep them out of the Great Lakes.

The fish pose a danger because they eat the food that native species depend on. They also can hurt boaters because the noise of boat engines causes the fish to jump out of the water, sometimes causing serious injury.

In northern parts of the Mississippi River basin, videos show rivers exploding with jumping fish when a boat passes by.

In Louisiana, there is evidence that the problem is growing.

“All of the anecdotal evidence points to the problem getting worse,” said Michael Massimi, invasive species coordinator with the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. “Fishermen are seeing them in more places.”

Getting a definitive estimate of Louisiana’s Asian carp population would take a survey, requiring time and money. And that would be difficult to accomplish because Asian carp aren’t collected effectively through the normal methods used by the state, said Bobby Reed, an invasive species specialist with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The carp can either jump or burst through nets normally used for fish sampling.

“We think, in areas, it’s already a major competitor,” Reed said, adding that the fish population isn’t even close to what the potential could be. “I don’t think we’re even halfway there yet.”

At least one species of the Asian carp found in Louisiana in 1988 was traced back to fish that escaped from Arkansas catfish farms.

In Louisiana, they seem to be concentrated in big rivers like the Mississippi, Red, Atchafalaya and Ouachita, Reed said.

Larvae studies in 2013 and 2014 found that the carp were reproducing in these four rivers.

So what can be done to get rid of, or at least control, the carp?

One proposal has come from Chef Philippe Parola, who has developed a method to clean this difficult fish and process it into ready-to-eat products for sale. The idea includes setting up a processing plant and giving fishermen a market and incentive to catch the fish.

“We’re not going to eradicate it, but you can live with and manage it,” Parola said.

Turning the invasive species into a commodity would help keep the numbers down, provide jobs and produce a quality food product, he said.

His “Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em” campaign has gotten support from a number of commercial fishermen and others concerned about the invasive fish. So far, no government agency has been willing to invest in the idea.

“Shy of what Chef Philippe is trying to do, I’m hard-pressed to say what another control would be,” Massimi said.

Creating a market for a species as a way of control is the last resort when all other forms are unavailable or not possible, he said.

“We’re sort of at that point with nutria and carp,” Massimi said.

Reed, though, sees a problem with the market approach. A small number of fish originally escaped from ponds and have quickly taken over waterways. The ever-expanding population of fish would be impossible to control. The LSU Agricultural Center reports that a female carp can produce 280,000 to 549,000 eggs every year.

“Even if you fished them down, even down to 10 percent, they’d bounce right back,” Reed said. “That’s not an end point where you could eradicate or control the carp.”

Some hope has come from Australian news that a virus has been found that can target an invasive carp species in that country. Although it’s a different species from the one Louisiana is dealing with, it does offer a possible route for eradication efforts, but that’s in the future.

There have been a few carp die-offs in the state over the years, but so far, scientists haven’t been able to isolate the pathogen responsible, Reed said. He added that in Australia, cleaning up the fish after they die off has proved to be a problem.

Another possibility is to develop a method used with other invasive species: releasing some sterilized fish into the wild so that spawning itself is unsuccessful.

For Rivere, who has been a part-time fishermen and enjoys a fishing camp of his own, waiting for a solution isn’t an option when the one being presented by Parola - creating a market for the fish - is already developed.

“It (the carp) will deplete our fisheries completely,” Rivere said. “Everybody says we have no money, but being proactive is so much better than reactive.”

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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