Words mean things. A wise journalism professor hammered home that point many years ago, and his directive still resonates with me today. Words are powerful, potent, and capable of producing great imagery. But when used improperly, inaccurately, or irresponsibly, words can distort, misrepresent, or erroneously characterize a critical issue. This appears to be the case with a recent televised report on Asian carp in Lake Erie. The line between science and the sensational was blurred to the extent that the viewer could easily reach conclusions not supported by research, data, or the experts on this particular subject. The term Asian carp refers collectively to four species of fish, with varying destructive abilities and risk factors. Bighead and silver carp pose the greatest threat to the Great Lakes fishery, since they are filter feeders that radically disrupt the food web. They are also prolific breeders, dominating the waters in many areas where they are present. Black carp feed on mussels and snails, while grass carp damage wetlands habitat by consuming aquatic vegetation. This TV report mentioned a physical barrier being completed in a marsh in northern Indiana, a berm that is meant to keep bighead and silver carp, which have proliferated in the nearby Wabash River, from migrating into the headwaters of the Maumee River. The report then mentioned that Asian carp were already present in the Great Lakes so “big changes” would be coming to the shores of Lake Erie. The report failed to make the clear distinction that the barrier is aimed at bighead and silver carp, not at grass carp, which were ultimately the focus of this TV segment. The report cited the presence of grass carp in the Sandusky River system, where a few rogue adults and juveniles have been found, but used phrasing such as “fish meant to be sterile” were apparently breeding “just like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park .” The presence of grass carp was referred to as a “plague.” Patrick M. Kočovský, a PhD research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Lake Erie Biological Station in Sandusky, is widely recognized as an expert on grass carp and he presented a scientific paper on this invasive species at the 76th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference in January. “I would not go to the point of calling it a plague,” Kočovský said about the presence of grass carp in the Lake Erie system. “It is a species of concern looking forward, but as of this point in time, no one has done an estimate of the number of fish in the lake, so we can’t point to any research that supports that statement.” Grass carp, also called white amur, were introduced in the United States in the 1960s as a biological tool to help control nuisance aquatic plant growth in southern aquaculture operations. But because of the risk to the ecosystem if established breeding populations were to develop, only sterile or triploid grass carp are permitted to be sold in most states. Many states also have rules against stocking the sterile fish in waters with an outlet, which could allow them to migrate into other waters. The sterilization process involves putting the eggs of the fish under pressure so three sets of DNA are present in every cell (triploid), instead of the normal two sets (diploid). The triploidy process renders the fish sterile. Many ponds in Ohio have triploid grass carp stocked in very small numbers to help control vegetation. It is illegal to possess either diploid or triploid grass carp in Michigan. Adult grass carp have been found in Lake Erie since at least the mid-1980s, and extensive field research suggests these were likely unlawful or accidental releases of lone fish. Most of the grass carp removed from the Lake Erie system have been genetically triploid fish, meaning they cannot reproduce. To suggest, as the report did, that some bizarre transformation takes place where sterile fish are suddenly rendered capable of reproduction, has no foundation in science, Kočovský said. “I don’t see, based on the research, any evidence of that Jurassic Park- type of change taking place,” he said. “That floors me — those are not terms you want to use when you are talking about real science.” Jeff Tyson, the Lake Erie Program Administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said that while the presence of any grass carp in the Lake Erie system is certainly a concern, all indications point to an extremely low number of fish. He cited a huge joint field research effort last year when agencies from several U.S. states and Canada converged along the Michigan shoreline of Lake Erie for an intensive search for grass carp. After more than 20 vessels spent 96 hours in the water electroshocking in search of grass carp, just two fish were found. “We are, however, working closely with both university and agency researchers to gather more information on grass carp, to help inform any future response to grass carp, and potentially bighead and silver carp, so these are as effective as they can be at limiting or eliminating the risks of these species establishing in the system,” Tyson said. “We could run around with shock boats every day, but that is not effective action at this time. It is not feasible to spend your time and resources chasing ghost fish. We need more meaningful science.” Chris Vandergoot, a fisheries biologist and supervisor of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Sandusky Fisheries Research Station, said the Jurassic Park reference was irresponsible. “It is categorically wrong to say this is evidence of ‘nature finding a way’ for sterile fish to reproduce. The reference to Jurassic Park is completely misleading,” he said. “That’s not the way these things work. It’s not like these fish have gone through some process and all of a sudden you have a mule that can produce babies. This is just wrong.” Tyson said that while all invasive fish pose a threat to the Great Lakes, it is inaccurate to characterize the threat as the same for all species of Asian carp. The damage that could potentially take place if bighead and/or silver carp were to become established in the lakes is significantly greater, he said. “In my mind, grass carp are a completely different animal than bighead and silvers, and the risks are completely different,” he said. “Grass carp can modify habitat, but no, they do not impact the food web the way bighead and silvers do. Bighead and silver carp would have direct competition with the inhabitants of the lake that we focus so much of our efforts on (walleye, perch, smallmouth bass and other gamefish).” Tyson, Vandergoot, and Kočovský agree that any nonnative or invasive fish or other invasive species present a threat to the ecosystem and the balance in the lake, but they failed to see the very rare instances when grass carp have been found in the Lake Erie system as constituting the crisis portrayed in the TV report. “It is disconcerting whenever we find something in the lake that does not belong there, but it is also not a Jurassic Park situation,” Tyson said. Vandergoot said it is very risky to “cherry pick” certain phrases from longer statements, and present them as factual. “The ‘plague’ is in the Illinois River, not here in Ohio,” he said, referring to the presence of a substantial numbers of bighead and silver carp in that waterway, which is part of the Mississippi River system. “It’s not like there is a huge population of these things lurking right below the water line in Lake Erie. I have seen hundreds of samples from Lake Erie, and I can count on one hand the number of grass carp I have seen. We are concerned and we are watching these things very closely, but the sky is not falling.”
Jann’s Netcraft is offering a creative way to beat the wintertime blues -- a fishing rod building class. The session takes place on Feb. 27 at the shop, located on Briarfield Boulevard in Maumee, just west of I-475, and south of Salisbury Road. The class runs from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and pre-registration is required. Call Netcraft at 419-868-8288 to register, or for more information.
Check out the recent story on the struggle to force kids to drop the Game Boy, put away the Wii, turn off Cartoon Network and unplug the PlayStation -- all so they are forced to go outside and open their eyes to the world around them. Here is the link to the story:
Another great option, especially for a rainy or stormy day, or those summer evenings when the bugs force you indoors, is an outdoors-related game. "The Fishing Camp" game is a trivia board game that teaches new fishermen about the sport, while also challenging seasoned veterans knowledge of fishing, all while they work their way around the game board.
Fishing Camp is designed to grow with the player. Starting at level one the questions are primarily based on identification of fish and fishing tackle. As the players increase their knowledge about fishing, they grow into the higher level questions.
Passing a love of fishing on to your kids can be difficult to do, especially with all of the digital distractions they encounter today. Try this game as a means to introduce them to fishing in a mildly competitive and educational format. "The Fishing Camp" game is available at Bass Pro, Cabela's, and Gander Mountain.
Van Buren State Park is hosting a "Christmas in July" campout for July 17-18.
Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey has been named to the Ohio Record Fish Committee, a group that reviews and certifies the state’s official record fish. Markey will serve as one of the five members of the committee that is chaired by Fred Snyder, a retired fisheries specialist and associate professor with Ohio Sea Grant and The Ohio State University.
The Ohio Record Fish Committee is operated by the Outdoor Writers of Ohio, the only outdoor writers organization in the country responsible for maintaining a state’s official angling records. The committee members scrutinize record fish applications for supporting documentation, certified weight slips and statements from a fisheries biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife confirming the species.
Ohio’s record fish are determined by weight only, and a very specific set of guidelines must be followed when submitting a potential record fish for review. A list of the current Ohio record fish, as well as state record fish application rules and forms, can be found at the outdoorwritersofohio.org website. Fish taken from pay lakes are not eligible for state record consideration.
A few clouds and a few raindrops did not deter the anglers from the Gold Medal 4H Club in their recent fishing derby held at W.W. Knight Preserve in Perrysburg. According to MSgt. Norman Drzewiecki, who organized the event, the kids had a great time, learned some fishing basics, and then brought in some nice bluegills, bass and catfish. Everyone caught fish, and the next generation of fishermen is off to a great start.
Lake Erie walleye angler and Ohio State Buckeyes fan extraordinaire Bryan Johnson is battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and his family and friends have joined the fight. On April 26, they will hold a benefit to help cover the rising costs of Bryan’s home health care. There will be a spaghetti dinner, with 50/50 raffles, gift raffles, and a silent auction. The Tony Godsey Band will provide blues music. The event will be held from 1-6 p.m. at the Sylvania Moose Lodge, located at 6072 N. Main St. in Sylvania. There is a $10 admission charge, and donations of any size are also being sought. For ticket information, contact Ted Warrington at 419-704-3703 or Dale Ellis at 419-810-4485.
The Ohio Water Sentinel Program seeks to educate, engage, and empower volunteers to restore, improve and protect Ohio’s waterways. Sierra Club will host a training session on Thursday, April 16, from 5-8 p.m. at the University of Toledo Lake Erie Center located at 6200 Bay Shore Road in Oregon. Future trainings will be held throughout the spring and summer and are announced on www.ohiosierraclub.org website’s Clean Water Calendar.