WORTHINGTON — Crews from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources captured two invasive silver carp from the pool below the Lake Bella dam this week in southern Nobles County.
A search for the silver carp — often referred to as flying fish because they can leap up to 10 feet out of the water — was instigated when a fisherman reported to the DNR last weekend the sighting of what was believed to be a silver carp. The fish was in the pool below the dam, in the Ocheyedan River.
Deeming the report as credible, DNR Fisheries staff from the Windom office responded on Monday by setting up a gill net in the deeper waters below the dam. Returning Tuesday, they found one silver carp — a 28.8-inch male weighing 9.4 pounds — as well as numerous other species of fish in the net.
The finding led to a full-fledged seining of the pool Thursday morning by an east metro-based DNR team, according to Nick Frohnauer, the state’s Invasive Fish Coordinator. He reported to The Globe Thursday afternoon that a second silver carp was captured during the seining process. That silver carp was a 26-inch male weighing 7.7 pounds.
“I can’t say with 100% certainty that there aren’t any others there, but with a big net and being able to seine the whole thing, it’s a greater than 90% chance,” Frohnauer said.
This week’s discovery of a silver carp is the first to be recorded in southwest Minnesota waters. The Minnesota DNR had been watching for the invasive species for the past several years, following the discovery of silver carp in the Little Sioux and Missouri River watersheds in Iowa. Both rivers connect to the Ocheyedan River.
“While this is the first silver carp capture in southwestern Minnesota, it is not entirely unexpected,” Frohnauer said. “High water this year likely aided the fish in getting this far upstream. Fortunately, the Lake Bella dam prevents invasive carp from swimming further upstream.”
Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl reiterated that there’s no imminent danger to the watershed being infested with silver carp.
“There just isn’t a way that a fish can navigate (the spillway),” Livdahl said. “The way the silver carp could get (into the lakes) is if someone was careless with the minnow bucket. It’s really easy if you have a trap full of minnows to misidentify what you’ve got.”
In recent years, the Minnesota DNR has taken steps to prevent the invasive carp from reaching Minnesota waters. Most of the projects have been in Jackson County, where dams could be more easily breached by the fish. There, the dams were fitted with electric fish barriers.
“Fortunately for us in this tributary, it ends at the Lake Bella dam,” Frohnauer said. “They aren’t going to swim above that.”
The spillway that dumps water from Lake Bella into the Ocheyedan River is just a few feet above the pool, however there's a 14-foot vertical pipe between the spillway and Lake Bella.
Frohnauer said the two silver carp that were captured will be processed at the DNR’s east metro office, and then sent out of state for further analysis on the bone and chemical structure.
“Sometimes they can determine where the fish originated from,” Frohnauer said, adding that it would likely be several months before that information comes back to the state.
The two adult carp that were found about 100 yards north of the Iowa state line do not indicate a reproductive population. As of yet, the Minnesota DNR has found no really young invasive carp in the state.
Invasive carp have been progressing upstream since escaping into the lower Mississippi River in the 1970s. These large fish compete with native species and pose a threat to rivers and lakes. No breeding populations have been detected in Minnesota waters.
The DNR is actively engaged with invasive carp prevention efforts in southwest Minnesota, having surveyed the Missouri River watershed to identify locations to prevent expansion of invasive carp populations. The DNR completed eight projects that limit expansion and protect aquatic resources, and provided financial support to the Iowa DNR to build an electric barrier at the outlet to the Iowa Great Lakes. The outlet channel also flows into the Little Sioux and Missouri rivers. This barrier protects not only the Iowa lakes but also aquatic resources in southern Minnesota.
Invasive carp captures must be reported to the DNR immediately. Call (651) 587-2781 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Take a photo and transport the carp to the nearest DNR fisheries office or arrange for it to be picked up by a DNR official.
More information about invasive carp is available at https://bit.ly/2S4EOM2.