Asian carp: ‘We are in the be­gin­ning of an in­va­sion’

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - KELLY NOSEWORTHY

Asian carp have ar­rived.

They’re big. They’re vo­ra­cious. They’re de­struc­tive.

And gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are do­ing what they can to stop the fish from gain­ing a foothold.

Four species of Asian carp have been reg­u­lated in On­tario: big­head, sil­ver, grass and black carp.

Becky Cudmore, man­ager of the Asian Carp pro­gram for the De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans Canada (DFO), said 2015 was the first time grass carp was found in the Cana­dian wa­ters of Lake On­tario.

They have not been found in Hamil­ton Har­bour.

“We did have to in­crease the geo­graphic scope of our ef­forts,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to Cudmore, lo­cat­ing Asian carp is a “high pri­or­ity” for the fed­eral and On­tario gov­ern­ments.

De­tec­tion ef­forts are be­ing fo­cused in Lake Erie and Lake On­tario.

In 2012, Fish­eries and Oceans launched the Asian carp pro­gram in or­der to pro­tect our lakes and na­tive species.

Cudmore said the in­va­sion is at a stage in the process “we weren’t aware of”— mean­ing first they show up here and there. Then, the fish show up more fre­quently, which is the “ar­rival” stage.

Fol­low­ing that, they start to re­pro­duce and es­tab­lish the next gen­er­a­tion and be­gin to spread.

There need to be about 10 fer­tile fe­males and about the same amount of males to have greater than 50 per cent re­pro­duc­tion. The de­part­ment of fish­eries says seven grass carp were pulled from Lake On­tario in 2015, with one be­ing fer­tile.

Three grass carp have been caught in Dun­nville in re­cent years.

“We are in the be­gin­ning of an in­va­sion,” said Cudmore. “We need to be more in that emer­gency mode and re­sponse and re­moval as­pect.”

She added “there have been no signs of re­pro­duc­tion or es­tab­lish­ment, so we know that we are ahead of the game and are be­ing re­ally proac­tive.”

The sit­u­a­tion has be­come more se­ri­ous which is why, un­der a grey sky and light rain, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Fish­eries and Oceans are on board elec­trofish­ing boats with nets ready to cap­ture the in­va­sive fish if it’s spot­ted.

They’re con­duct­ing an on-wa­ter emer­gency train­ing ex­er­cise off Byng Is­land Con­ser­va­tion Area in Dun­nville, demon­strat­ing their tech­niques for an emer­gency re­sponse.

“This is the first time that we’re aware of that emer­gency pre­pared­ness is be­ing done on wa­ter for an in­va­sive species in Canada,” said Cudmore. “We’re walk­ing through dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios to iden­tify any gaps or weak­nesses now so that we can strengthen them be­fore the sum­mer starts.”

Op­er­at­ing un­der the “in­ci­dent com­mand sys­tem” de­signed by the U.S. Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (FEMA), emer­gency man­age­ment ex­pert John Saun­ders said all agen­cies work­ing to­gether is crit­i­cal to pre­vent a rapid in­va­sion from hap­pen­ing.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity to test the re­sponse plan, tweak it and en­sure that we haven’t missed any gaps,” said Saun­ders. “Also, to iden­tify what are the best prac­tices that DFO has been do­ing and make sure we doc­u­ment those and do those in the fu­ture.”

The Grand River was se­lected as the test sight be­cause, as Cudmore pointed out, it has suit­able habi­tat con­di­tions for the species to spawn and grow its pop­u­la­tion.

“They like the long rivers with woody de­bris along the side, and that’s where they like to hide,” she said while on board the ob­ser­va­tion boat. “It’s highly suit­able and we have caught fish here, so it says to us it’s a river we re­ally need to keep an eye on.”

Due to their de­struc­tive na­ture, if Asian carp were to es­tab­lish a pop­u­la­tion in On­tario wa­ter­ways, they could po­ten­tially eat the food sup­ply re­quired by na­tive fish, push­ing them out of their habi­tat. Na­tive fish species would de­cline, caus­ing po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing long last­ing ef­fects for com­mer­cial and recre­ational fish­ing in­dus­tries in the prov­ince that con­trib­ute mil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally to Canada’s econ­omy.

Cudmore’s team has in the past im­ple­mented emer­gency mea­sures.

By us­ing science and un­der­stand­ing the bi­ol­ogy of the species and its habits, they’re able to target the most vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas.

“We have built up from 24 to 36 early de­tec­tion sites,” said Cudmore. “We visit at least once a year, and some that are very suit­able we would visit sev­eral times a year.”

All it takes is one cap­ture for the fed­eral agency to im­ple­ment its emer­gency re­sponse plan. The level of sever­ity is de­ter­mined by an on­site aquatic bi­ol­o­gist who de­ter­mines if the Asian carp is fer­tile or ster­ile. The test takes about two hours. Over the past few years, Cudmore said, the num­ber of Asian carp they’ve cap­tured has risen.

“Our sur­veil­lance ef­forts have in­creased and we have more peo­ple out,” she said. “More boats out, more eyes out on the wa­ter with the pub­lic help­ing, so it’s hard to say whether there is more out there or we’re just bet­ter at catch­ing them now.”

“I am wor­ried,” she added. “I’m also re­ally con­fi­dent that we are pre­pared and we’re ready to go. I have all the faith in the world in my team and in our part­ners.”

PHOTOS BY GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A Fish­eries and Oceans team con­ducts a train­ing search off Byng Is­land Con­ser­va­tion Area in Dun­nville.

Alex Price han­dles a com­mon carp dur­ing the train­ing ex­er­cise.

Bi­ol­o­gist Ju­lia Colm sy­ringes a com­mon carp’s eye­ball.

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