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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow Carp clamp-down

Carp clamp-down

We humans just expect too much from fish.

Sometimes this causes us all manner of unanticipated trouble.

Some perch aficionado tosses his favorite fish into Phillips Reservoir, for instance, and pretty soon puny perch are about the only thing an angler can hook in the reservoir, which once was renowned for its plump rainbow trout.

A similar sort of problem, albeit a rather more serious one, plagues Malheur Lake.

The piscatorial plague there is carp.

The species insinuated itself into the local ecology almost a century ago. Apparently landowners transplanted carp into the nearby Silvies River because the fish eat aquatic plants and algae that could clog irrigation ditches.

But the carp weren’t content playing ranch hand.

The fish migrated into Malheur Lake, which connects to the Silvies during wet years. Before too long the carp population in the massive (50,000 acres) but shallow (average depth: 18 inches) lake exceeded 1 million.

 

Which wouldn’t necessarily be a disaster except that Malheur Lake is one of the most vital stopovers for waterfowl on the Pacific Flyway.

Which is why President Theodore Roosevelt created the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 1908.

But although the refuge is excellent habitat for birds and for carp, when it comes to competition between the two, the carp, with their prodigious numbers and appetite for the same foods that birds covet, prevail.

Refuge officials estimate that waterfowl numbers have plummeted by 75 percent.

Malheur Lake, in other words, is a refuge for birds in name only.

This predicament is not new. Carp have been infesting the lake since the 1940s, and several times the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, has spread a fish-killing poison in the lake to curb the carp. The last poisoning was in 1992.

That tactic has only temporary benefits, though, because carp remain in the Silvies River and restock the lake when the two bodies of water are linked.

Obviously the federal agency needs to try a new strategy.

We hope that strategy is not only more effective than poison in the long run, but that it also produces a saleable product rather than saddle the taxpayers with a bill.

Among the options federal officials are considering is netting carp and then using the fish as organic fertilizer or even to produce energy.

That sounds promising.

But we urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to also consider allowing the public to fish for carp as well.

Fishing is prohibited in the lake now, and officials predict that wading through the bureaucratic morass to change the rules to allow angling would take two years.

That’s ridiculous.

There’s no legitimate reason to waste so much time approving an anti-carp tactic that’s much less drastic than poisoning a lake that’s 20 times bigger than Phillips Reservoir.

Besides which, Harney County residents (the lake, despite its name, is in Harney County rather than neighboring Malheur) could do with a new way to make money — Harney County’s unemployment rate has been above 14 percent for months now.

Carp fishing won’t revive the county’s economy, of course.

But fish biologists say one gram of diluted carp pituitary gland (it’s injected into other fish to aid in spawning) can fetch $350.

Protecting the birds that are the reason Malheur Wildlife Refuge exists, and doing so in a way that doesn’t involve poison but could make a profit, seems like a natural.

 
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