Carp removal is key to improving water clarity on Lake OchedaWORTHINGTON — Water quality on Lake Ocheda has been poor for years, and it’s no secret that carp populations in the 1,700-acre lake are to blame for the constant stirring of sediment in the three basins.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Water quality on Lake Ocheda has been poor for years, and it’s no secret that carp populations in the 1,700-acre lake are to blame for the constant stirring of sediment in the three basins.
That sediment has prevented sunlight from reaching the lake bottom and promoting any kind of aquatic plant growth in the three basin system.
On the shores of Lake Ocheda’s east basin Tuesday night, property owners gathered for an informational meeting regarding carp removal that would be a win-win situation for landowners and a southwest Minnesota commercial fisherman.
Scott Des Laurier, a native of Currie, harvests carp and other rough fish from lakes throughout the region each year.
As a commercial fisherman, he harvests the fish with large nets, sorts out the game fish to return to the lake and markets the rough fish to vendors predominantly in New York.
Though his first glimpse at the size of Lake Ocheda proved a realization that a monumental task lies before him to rid the lake of carp and buffalo fish, Des Laurier was optimistic he could make an impact on rough fish population.
“In a lake like this, I don’t know how we could ever wipe them out,” he said. “Fish do congregate — if we found them, we could do some damage. If they congregate by the roads and the dam this fall, we could get them out of there.”
Des Laurier does most of his rough fish harvesting in the region during the fall of the year — generally starting Oct. 1 and continuing as long as there’s open water. He encouraged landowners to contact him whenever they saw fish congregating — a necessary tip on a lake the size of Ocheda.
“I’ll do my darndest to control the rough fish. I was pretty surprised to see how big this lake is — it’s pretty big,” Des Laurier said. “Unless I knew where the fish congregated, it will be kind of tough to fish.”
Des Laurier has about five guys that help him harvest rough fish from lakes here in southwest Minnesota. Among their more recent successes was Double Lake near Westbrook where, in the course of two seasons, the rough fish population was virtually cleared out.
“Carp are marketed almost all to the Jewish community in New York,” he said, adding that they make fish balls and fish loaves from the filleted meat. A company in Spirit Lake, Iowa, cleans the fish and fillets them out, he said.
“The buffalo (fish) are worth quite a bit more money — I have to keep those live,” Des Laurier said.
Trucks used to haul the live fish are contracted from New Ulm, Omaha, Neb., and Michigan to take the fish to New York. Once they arrive on the East Coast, the fish are graded and Des Laurier is paid accordingly for No. 1 fish.
“Then they go to smaller markets in China Town or wherever,” he explained. “They want to be able to kill all their own stuff. I think they eat every part of that buffalo (fish).”
Des Laurier even has a market for sheephead. The larger fish are sold with the carp, while the smaller fish are sold primarily to lobster fishermen in Maine and shrimp fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Really, every fish has someplace to go,” Des Laurier said. “I can’t get enough of this stuff.”
Several of the nearly 30 landowners in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting at the Langseth Retreat Center favored Des Laurier’s method of carp removal from Lake Ocheda and offered support — some even offering to help with the rough fish harvest.
Des Laurier plans to fish the lake this fall, telling the group that he had planned to look into doing work in this area anyway.
“This is no inconvenience for me to come here,” he said.
Because of the size of the lake, Des Laurier asked for any suggestions on where to go to capitalize on rough fish harvest. He had planned to look at some of those areas on Wednesday to see if there were potential “landing spots” for him to bring in his equipment.
Des Laurier has an array of nets to help with the harvest, some stretching as long as a half-mile.
There was some discussion about “baiting the carp” by putting cracked corn in the lake as a food source for the rough fish. Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl said the University of Minnesota is conducting research on how to attract carp.
“Unfortunately, they feed in the middle of the night, when it’s difficult for fishing,” Livdahl said.
Paul Langseth, who hosted Tuesday’s meeting, said they could also try to create an area for the fish to congregate — particularly during spawning.
“Our goal is to hopefully improve water quality,” Langseth said. “Getting the carp out is the first step. You’re not going to get rid of them completely, but if you can cut it down, we can get the reeds back. Right now, there’s not a reed bed left on this lake.”
Lake Ocheda landowners Rolf Mahlberg and Don Basche both spoke favorably of Des Laurier’s plan to harvest rough fish from the lake.
“I like this idea — I think it’s tremendous,” Basche said.