BY COLBY WRASSE, CARTERVILLE FWCO
“He knew he had attained humility and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.”
Ernest Hemingway from “The Old Man and the Sea”
Every step was a struggle. Six inches of water lay atop two feet of soft sticky mud that swallowed my legs to the knees. Simply walking here was challenging enough, let alone dragging a 30 foot bag seine full of fish and mud. I stumbled and bumbled my way along a substrate that was somehow both slippery and sticky at the same time. After trudging along for only a couple hundred feet I was winded and quickly reminded of the fact that I was no longer 20 years old. My veteran savvy was only getting me so far. Though I tried to conceal it, my struggles must have been obvious. So when one of my younger colleagues offered to take the seine for a while, I gladly handed it over. Maybe this was a sign of maturity, or maybe it was a certain type of giving-up; either way, I was glad for the break.
This muddy ditch had humbled me - and surprised me. It certainly didn’t look like much. It was as straight as an arrow and narrow, with depths ranging from two feet to two inches. It was a typical Midwestern agricultural ditch, designed to drain extra water away from corn and soybean fields. Nothing about it screamed “fish factory”, but a fish factory it was. Unfortunately invasive carp composed a high percentage of the fishery, and that was the reason we were here. Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) had recently captured young-of-year Black Carp from this ditch near Cape Girardeau, Missouri. A non-native species, the Black Carp feeds primarily on mollusks, which could be bad news for our already imperiled native mussels. Up until 2016, only a handful of Black Carp had been reported from North American waters, but MDC’s recent collections are ominous and raise more questions. How many other agricultural ditches could potentially harbor Black Carp? How long have they been reproducing in the wild? Have Black Carp been hiding in plain sight for years? Maybe the only reason we haven’t detected more Black Carp is we haven’t been looking in the right places. The ditch where MDC discovered Black Carp represents a habitat type that probably isn’t sampled often by fishery professionals. Inaccessible by boat, located on private property, not very interesting looking and only wadeable by adventurous souls, these types of habitats could silently harbor invasive species for years. If it hadn’t been for a curious MDC biologist and his simple seine net, this Black Carp nursery habitat would have likely gone unnoticed.
Beyond assisting MDC with their Black Carp collection efforts, we at Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) spent the fall of 2016 searching for Black Carp in other nearby waters within the Middle Mississippi River and Lower Ohio River basins. We hope that by addressing the Black Carp issue early, we can prevent a much larger problem. Our collaborative efforts represent the dedication that both state and federal agencies have when it comes to combating invasive species. As for me, I’ll keep dragging that seine for a few more years. It may not be a thousand pound marlin I am after, but the battle is similar.
BY JENNIFER BRAATZ, DETROIT RIVER INTERNATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge along with the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance and DTE Energy of Southeast Michigan hosted the 7th annual Eagle Tour at the DTE Monroe Power plant on January 28, 2017. This annual event has become so popular that a lottery takes place to give visitors a fair chance to win a spot. With over 1,900 groups that applied, only 60 people were chosen to join the tour.
The popularity of viewing eagles is likely due to the fact that for many decades the Bald Eagle was an extremely rare site in the lower 48. The Eagle has made an incredible comeback since the banning of DDT (a pesticide that was sprayed on crops and got into the food web of the bald eagle and other species) and the protection of critical habitat. Many of the participants on the tour had never seen an eagle in their life and left in awe and gratitude. For others, taking photos and seeking eagles has become a hobby for which the eagle tour was just another fun eagle outing. One thing all participants had in common, they felt incredibly lucky to get to experience the eagle tour and share this memory with others.
So what exactly is this annual eagle tour? And why do we anticipate large numbers of eagles in one spot? That’s where the partnership between the refuge and DTE comes into place. The DTE Energy Power Plant located on Lake Erie produces a warm water discharge. This creates a refuge for eagles as well as other species to come and enjoy a non-frozen buffet when Lake Erie has iced over for the season. The warm water attracts eagles to fish for shad and other fish. During especially frigid years the numbers of eagles increase. This year we have had some mild weeks leading up to the tour and there was some concern that the eagle numbers would be low. Even still with less ice out on the lake we saw around 50 to 60 eagles on each tour.
Naturalist and volunteer Dorothy McLeer has been a part of the tour since the beginning. She always starts off the tour by teaching participants just how cool these magnificent birds are. When McLeer was asked about her experience being a part of this special event she responded, “My first reflection over the past seven years is that every participant, nearly to a person, no matter their place of residence, social standing, or political point of view, is happy to be there--and after the year that Americas has been through, that's saying something! This is an equal opportunity event that becomes a bonding experience. They are being catered to and made to feel special, thanks to the efforts of each agency and each person involved in this program. In the early years, they were happy to get on the list, and now they're happy to be chosen out of the thousands of people in the lottery; they're happy that they're going to be treated to a unique experience, and happy that the unique experience is watching the symbol of our nation in a form of its habitat, albeit a massive power plant, behaving in a natural, wild way. It's an eye opening experience and helps people look at nature and wildlife as they interface with industry, revealing a potential coexistence between the two. It reconnects people with where they live, which is the main focus of my job! “
If you didn’t make it into the tour this year you can always apply next year. The eagle tour lottery registration opens each Thanksgiving week and remains open until the first week of January. This gives people plenty of time to register.