KANSAS CITY MO -- Two non-native fishes that can injure boaters and harm sport fishing – silver carp and bighead carp – are swarming by the thousands at downstream outlets from the dams at Longview Lake and Blue Springs Lake.
Fishermen are asked to help keep them from moving over the dams and into the lakes. If the so-called “flying fish” do enter the lakes, it will likely be due to the illegal movement of Asian carp by anglers using them for bait.
The adult silver carp grow large and leap high into the air when startled, posing a hazard to boaters. But silver and bighead carp also compete with native fishes for food. In recent decades the Asian escapees from fish farms have become a major problem in freshwater rivers.
“We don’t want them transported out of the river systems into the lakes,” said Jake Allman, a fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
One leaping silver carp gave Allman a mild concussion while he was boating during fishery work. On another outing, a jumping carp dislocated his shoulder. A third fish tore up some onboard electronics. Small fish can hurt you when they hit you while a boat is moving fast, but silver carp are especially dangerous to boaters and skiers because large ones are common and the biggest can top 50 pounds.
The fish currently congregating below dams are area lakes are not that big. They’re young and two to five inches long, a size similar to the gizzard shad that catfish anglers often catch with throw nets to use as bait.
That’s the problem. Anglers are using throw nets in the shallow water of stilling basins below the dam to capture young carp and shad as catfish bait.
“It’s illegal in Missouri to transport live Asian carp and to use them as live bait,” Allman said.
Biologists fear that anglers dumping unused bait from a bucket, or carp escaping from hooks, will cause the fish to spread. Besides causing boating dangers, both silver carp and bighead carp compete with native sport fish for habitat and food.
“All fish a sometime in their life utilize plankton for food,” Allman said.
The only legal and safe way to use the fish netted from area streams for bait is to place them on ice immediately after capture, he said. The sudden chill kills the fish but keeps them fresh for use as bait. It is legal to use dead Asian carp as bait.
Longview and Blue Springs lakes are not the only place where this is a problem. The young Asian carp are also congregating below the spillway at Smithville Lake. Although netting bait is prohibited there.
Anglers should beware in general, Allman said, that moving bait around without being certain of the species is a hazard for all waters, including neighborhood ponds and community lakes.
“If we get them in reservoirs,” Allman said, “we could see our largemouth bass numbers decline. These things are prolific spawners. They can fill up a system.”