The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put in great effort to eradicate populations of bighead carp, an invasive species that has been creating problems in multiple lake systems.
These efforts cannot be done alone.
“The focus of this project is to thoroughly understand the life history of these highly invasive fish and then remove them from the system,” Phelps said. “Data collection during educational dissection will be used to further manage these invasive species.”
One carp at a time
The large and damaging bighead carp has been a problem in multiple lake systems for decades as they consume large quantities of native zooplankton and aquatic insects.
Its behavior affects wildlife in the states of Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma and even aquatic life within drainage in the Missouri River.
Living up to its name, the bighead carp can grow to be very large, with a rod and reel world record-breaking carp just recently caught in Oklahoma at a whopping 118 pounds by skilled angler Bryan Baker.
Phelps says Baker has become a large part of the eradication efforts.
“He’s normally an angler for the Spoonbill Wreckers Guide Service, but he’s now working with us, the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to harvest these invasive species,” Phelps said.
The carp Baker caught did more than remove just one contributor. Phelps said a single carp can hold between 8.5 and 11 million eggs.
“By getting that big carp out of the system, Baker just did the river a giant favor,” Phelps said.
He adds it’s not uncommon for carp to hold a large number of eggs, emphasizing the greater need for these eradication efforts.
The Grand Lake system is in the foothills of Northeast Oklahoma’s Ozark Mountain Range.
Bighead carp sightings and catches have become more common in Grand Lake, raising alarms for the welfare of the lake’s native aquatic life.
Phelps and Kim have plans to implement novel data collection methods to help take back Grand Lake.
“Our hope with the research project is that we can catch some of the carp and insert transmitters to track them,” Phelps said. “This creates a Judas Fish, which allows us to use one representative fish to find schools of bighead carp.”
The project also includes conservation education through some special connections.
“Baker’s wife, Shellie Baker, is the superintendent of Bluejacket Public School in Bluejacket, Oklahoma,” Phelps said. “Thanks to that connection, we’ve had the opportunity to visit their campus and provide education on invasive aquatic species. They sure have some sharp kids!”
The project began this year, and the duo aim to continue as long as they have an impact.
“This is a super cool opportunity since these carp have been evading us for the past 20 to 30 years,” Kim said. “In a matter of weeks, we’ve exponentially increased the number of available samples to study. Trying to control these things is a large cooperative effort that will take a long time but will be worth it.”