There is movement on several fronts regarding invasive species in the St. Croix region. Asian carp and zebra mussels both threaten the healthy biodiversity of lakes and rivers, as well as the boating, fishing and other recreation we love and which provides a lot of economic benefit.
One of the biggest challenges concerning Asian carp is figuring out who is in charge of confronting the threat. A multitude of state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups, and researchers are working on the issue, but the lack of a leader is harming progress. Recent actions have focused on that problem.
Federal legislation introduced
Both Minnesota Senators and several members of the state’s House delegation have signed onto a bill that would direct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lead a multi-agency effort to fight carp.
A big part of the bill would be to direct closure of the St. Anthony Lock on the Mississippi River. Much of the recent carp action has been focused on the Mississippi.
The legislation does seek to include the St. Croix in an over-arching action plan. From the press release:
Specifically, the bill directs the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) at the White House to incorporate the Upper Mississippi River, the Minnesota River, and the St. Croix River into the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework. It would also encourage various government agencies to cooperate with states and local non-profits to research technologies to disrupt the breeding cycle of Asian carp and to remove Asian carp from areas they currently infest.
Edit 2/25/13: St. Croix 360 reader Greg Genz, vice-president of Friends of Pool 2, a Mississippi River conservation group, calls our attention to different legislation introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum which would direct stronger action. His comment:
Why, when you identify the problem as having no one in charge of the national Asian carps problem, do you bring up legislation that does nothing to address that problem. You have completely ignored Rep. McCollum’s bill that has all MN House members, except Kline supporting it. HR358 and it’s companion bill S 125 establish the US Fish and Wildlife Service as the federal agency responsible for a national problem. The Klobuchar/Ellison bills do nothing for the majority of MN waters, including the St. Croix. Language like “Encourage various government agencies” does not make law or policy.
At the Minnesota state capitol, lawmakers are also wrestling with the issue. The legislature’s Session Daily publication recently explained one reason there has been more talk about the Mississippi than the St. Croix:
Whether closing, electrifying, or otherwise making a lock uninviting, even a successful effort to stop Asian carp moving up the Mississippi won’t stop their spread through other Minnesota waterways. [Steve Hirsch, Department of Natural Resources’ director of Water and Ecological Services,] said the Minnesota and St. Croix Rivers are “much tougher nuts to crack” when it comes to infestation, for example. Different strategies or technologies will likely be needed, and what those are is not yet clear. But solutions must be found soon.
Carp evidence questioned
A couple Asian carp have been caught by commercial fishermen in the St. Croix near Prescott — findings which rang a lot of alarm bells. But the release of news last year that eDNA of the fish had been found far upriver suggested the river might already be infested.
Now a new government study suggests the eDNR methods aren’t accurate. The research primarily looked at waterways in the Chicago area, where concerns are high about carp moving into the Great Lakes. The Associated Press reports:
In their report, the federal scientists said they have conducted experiments to determine the feasibility of alternative explanations for the sampling results. Skeptics have suggested the previously detected DNA could have come from excrement of birds that feed on dead carp, or perhaps from ice and wastewater flushed into Chicago sewers from markets that sell the carp, or from boats that touched the fish.
Without taking sides in the debate, the scientists found that fish-eating birds “have the capacity” to transmit carp DNA in their droppings, which could contaminate barges and other vessels. They found the telltale DNA in feces of birds that were fed Asian carp.
The study also found “considerable amounts” of DNA stuck to boat hulls, which can remain for days “and does not appear to be completely or quickly washed off of boats moving through the water.”
Team members reported finding Asian carp DNA in Chicago’s storm sewers. They said boats, nets and other gear used by commercial fishermen and natural resource agencies could spread the genetic markers.
More details about the report, its methods and its findings are available in this executive summary (PDF).
Research ramps up
The Minnesota legislature approved almost $4 million in funding for an aquatic invasive species research center at the University of Minnesota. The funding came from lottery and Legacy Amendment proceeds.
So far, the center has begun renovations of its laboratories, hired researchers, and focused on also trying to understand the eDNA science.
As Dave Orrick reported in the Pioneer Press, after attending an open house at the center in December, the work is primarily looking for ways to disrupt the growth and reproduction of exotic species, especially carp:
If you’re a non-native life form hoping to wreak havoc on Minnesota’s waters, the University of Minnesota’s Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center is a shop of horrors, place where scientists poke, prod and study you, revealing your vulnerabilities in hopes of someday eradicating your kind.
The center is also seeking to hire a “world-class” zebra mussel researcher, and overall become a global leader in studying how invasive species live, and how to prevent their spread. They also identify one of their roles as the important coordination of work being done by all those agencies, nonprofits and scientists interested in the issue.
Some of the management techniques being studied include ways to use “Judas carp,” which could be tagged with trackers and released into rivers, with the hope they would locate schools of their species. Another project is seeking to develop bait food which would attract only Asian carp, potentially making it possible to poison or otherwise kill concentrated populations of the fish.
The center is seeking additional funding for research on several projects, including methods for locating large gatherings of carp, and how native species like bluegill sunfish might be able to manage carp, as voracious predators of their eggs and larvae.
Stay tuned for more about this critical St. Croix issue.