A Season of Cooperation in the Fight against Asian Carp
BY JEREMIAH DAVIS, CARTERVILLE FWCO
This field season crews from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) teamed up with multiple state and federal partners in the fight against Asian carp. At the Carterville FWCO, all staff understand the importance of working collaboratively with the many researchers and managers that are battling these invasive species. That understanding led to some great opportunities for collaboration, cooperation, and outright friendships this field season. This ultimately helped everyone who cares about stopping the spread of Asian carp to gain more knowledge and have more tools at their disposal.
Beginning in May, a large Asian carp die off took place on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers below Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Fighting the smell that’s not fit for words, a crew of biologists and technicians from Carterville FWCO came out to assist Paul Wilkes, Aquatic Nuisance Species Biologist from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kevin Irons, Aquatic Nuisance Species Lead from the Illinois Department of Natural resources (DNR), and a team of fish health experts from the USFWS Warm Springs Fish Health Center. The goal was to identify the reason for the die-off with hopes of turning this problem back against itself and using the fish kill culprit to decimate other populations. The jury is still out on what caused the die-off, but we are working in another partnership with US Geological Survey (USGS) scientists to solve the mystery. The field season was off to a great collaborative start.
June took Fish Biologist Jeff Stewart and crew from the Carterville FWCO to Ohio where they teamed up with the Ohio DNR to sample the serene waters of the Muskingum River for environmental DNA (eDNA). eDNA is DNA found in the environment that comes from target organisms that may hide under the noses of biologists using less sensitive detection tools. These efforts were followed up by a week of intensive electrofishing looking for any sign of the invasive fish in new areas. Fortunately, no signs of Asian Carp were found in the Muskingum watershed.
Partnerships with state agencies continued in July as efforts to find traces of Asian carp DNA even farther up the Ohio River system took place. Jeff and crew worked closely this time with the friendly field staff from the Ohio DNR as well as the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, and a crew from USFWS Northeast Region to sample the waters of the upper Ohio for eDNA.
During August Carterville FWCO was again called to provide support for a cooperative effort. The USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center, USGS Great Lakes Science Center, USGS Columbia Environmental Research lab, Southern Illinois University, and Carterville FWCO teamed up to perform testing and evaluation of seismic water cannon technology. These boisterous weapons in the fight against Asian carp are designed to affect the distribution and behavior of the nuisance fish. Testing took place in Hanson Materials Services gravel pits in Morris, Illinois. The seismic water cannons emit a strong pressure wave through the water that has been shown to repel Asian carp. Carterville’s role in the testing was to perform mobile split beam hydroacoustic surveys of Asian carp distribution and abundance at the study site. The data collected on our aptly named survey boat- “The Carpe See Um”- was instrumental in determining the effectiveness of the seismic water gun technology, allowing researchers to understand where the fish were located in the study area before and after the water cannons began firing.
In September, Assistant Project Leader Sam Finney and Fish Biologist Jeremiah Davis teamed up with crews from the La Crosse and Columbia FWCO’s as well as the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), Illinois DNR, and contracted commercial fishermen to intensively monitor the Chicago Area Waterway System for Asian carp using a combination of electrofishing and gill netting. During the course of the work no Asian carp were captured or observed, in spite of hours of electrofishing and netting in the pungent canal water.
In October, biologists from Carterville deployed their dual fixed DIDSON fish observation system at the electric dispersal barrier in Romeoville, Illinois to make observations of fish behavior near the electric barrier. This work was once again a collaborative team effort with fish sampling, electrical testing, and data collection support coming from the Columbia FWCO, the USACE- Chicago District, and the USACE- Champaign Construction Engineering Research Laboratory.
The DIDSON fish observation system is unique because it uses an array of acoustic beams to produce video like images of fish even in the murky water of the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal. The project was also unique because of the level of cooperation and collaboration required to get the job done. Working in a noisy environment, with the danger of intense electrical fields and water nearby is never easy, but bringing together the skills and abilities of multiple partners once again made for a smooth running operation.
It has been another busy field season for the Carterville FWCO on the front lines of the effort to control Asian carp. Once again, it has been a successful year of fighting because of the many strong working relationships that have been developed. We appreciate the ideas that have been shared, and knowing that as we move forward, we are all in this fight together.