When problems get ugly in the fish realm, you need to get uglier. I’ll explain.
One of the ugliest fish in our nation is the alligator gar, a throwback to Cretaceous times. It has the head of a particularly unpleasant alligator and the body of a pike, though the body doesn’t much matter when you sport an ugly-ass alligator head, with row after row of nightmarish teeth gleaming forth.
Now their ugliness is looking beautiful to folks desperately trying to fight an ugly invader, the Asian carp. But is this instant gar appreciation too little too late?
BIG AND REELING: Giant gars are able to contend with real alligators, size-wise. In a perfect world, they’re able to exceed ten feet in length and easily host 300 pounds of thickness. But this second largest freshwater species, outsized only by the endangered white sturgeon, is now all but dead in the water.
Why are they reeling? Because of our reeling.
Due to the gar’s gruesome garishness, fishermen began systemically eradicating them. They used catch-and-kill, even resorting to dynamite to meld the two steps together.
A big chunk of the angler-based prejudice was the assumption that the species got so insanely large by ravenously dining upon prettier and far more desirable gamefish. The teetering species has now been reduced to cowering in some secluded riverine and stocked lake waters.
But now, out of the ugly blue, this angler-despised fish is being hailed as the Ben Kenobi of the fishery management.
Whadda ya mean, “Who the hell is Ben Kenobi?” You’re telling me you’re so “Star Wars” illiterate that you don’t know that’s the exile name of Obi-Wan Kenobi? Yep, the Obi-Wan of “You’re our only hope” fame.
The Obi-Wan alligator gar is being nursed back to population health, ordained to make an eco-rescue of an environment crapped up by carp. As we speak, itty-bitty alligator gar are being farm raised to eventually undergo special forces training to attack Asian carp.
How invasive are the carp? A single lady carp can contain two million eggs. Currently, the carp population in Middle America is scientifically tabulated at “Too many to count.” Let’s see, too many to count times two million eggs …
The prolific carp have already numbered out many indigenous river species. They’re now mustering to make moves on the Great Lakes. Once in those massive bodies of water, there’s not even a Katy-bar-the-doors move that can help.
Not that we aren’t fighting back in the truest American fashion, as evidenced by the most recent Asian carp “turkey shoots.” Yes, it’s as it sounds.
A natural tendency of Asian carp, when spooked by the likes of a boat, is to jump high out of the water – sometimes 50 or more fish going as high as ten feet into the air.
Under the pretext of carp population control, double-barreled Midwestern folks are loading up and boating about, spooking up the invaders – then vaporizing them like clay pigeons. Needless to say, there are seldom huge crowds on the shoreline watching these carp shoots – with buckshot and carp innards flying about.
Grassroots retaliatory actions against carp don’t end there. A personal de-carping favorite of mine is known as batting practice, which is sorta self-explanatory once you envision a slew of outdated motorboats whizzing around, loaded to the gills with fully fueled rednecks, each sporting a Louisville Slugger. It’s amazing the carp batting average some of those good old boys host – until one of them falls overboard and all the others start laughing so hard they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
Below: Yep. Carp blinds. Good old boys can be ingenious.
There are now also many competitive “carp roundups.” Entire flotillas, comprised of every sort of watercraft known, zigzag the waterways, nabbing flying carp by any means possible, short of firearms. Last year, a single roundup netted thousands of Asian carps … after which someone asked the better-late-than-never question, “Now whadda we gonna do with these stinkin’ things?”
In that vein, there have been efforts to dine on Asian carp, but, as someone pointed out, an hour after eating them you’re hungry again.
Sadly, none of these creative carp control methods have put so much as a dent in the overall population of the speedily reproducing fish. Which cycles us back to a now more understandable Obi-Wan alligator gar connection.
Researchers have proven gar are as carp unfriendly as they are eye unfriendly. Even a medium-sized alligator gar can take down a larger carp, which can reach 100 pounds.
Farmed gar will soon become assets in launching counter-strikes against the Asian aggressors. As we speak, gar are being invited back into existence by researchers sheepishly saying, “Sorry about that extirpation thing.”
Allyse Ferrara, an alligator gar expert at Nicholls State University in Louisiana, recently told the L.A. Times, “What else is going to be able to eat those monster carp? We haven’t found any other way to control them.”
She also reflects on the abuses of the primordial fish. “Some horrible things have been done to this fish,” referencing the wholesale targeting of the gars by anglers, right through the 1900s.
Ferrara then explains the alligator gar’s indispensable clean-up role when it comes to wreaking havoc on any arriving, ecology-ruining species, like the carp. “It’s similar to how we used to think of wolves; we didn’t understand the role they played in the ecosystem.”
Whether or not the alligator gar perseveres – and Obi-Wans the bad-carp day – could fall back into the hands of anglers.
“It will be interesting to see if fishermen have enough integrity to pass up a 7-foot fish that’s 200 pounds,” Christopher Kennedy, a Missouri fisheries supervisor, told the Times. He even hopes to induce a total turn-around in angling attitudes. “We’d love to create a self-sustaining population that we can turn into a trophy fishery.”
But won’t it take forever for an alligator gar to get trophy-ish? Alligator gar stocked in an Illinois lake have already grown to over four feet long – in just six years! I’ll gladly take a piece of that catch-and-release Obi-Wan action.
You disgust me.
As a native Central Illinoisan working in an office on the banks of the Illinois River, I’m all too familiar with the scaly menace of the silver carp and its less annoying cousin, the bighead carp.
For those living under a rock, these Asian species were imported by some rednecks down south who thought they’d be great for cleaning the algae out of their ponds, never meaning to set them free into commercial waterways.
But since Murphy’s Law never takes a break, the fish found their way into the Mississippi River, supposedly after the record flooding of the early 1990s. Soon, the fish made their way up the Illinois River and to the front door of the Great Lakes.
Not only have the fish taken up the duty of all invasive species by displacing local species and screwing with local ecosystems, but the silvers have also become a surprising hazard for any pleasure craft on the water.
You see, these aren’t exactly minnows – they are huge-as-all-get-out carp that can weigh up to over 100 pounds, and in the silver’s case, are capable of leaping up to 10 feet out of the water. When the silvers are startled, they instinctively flail into the air, supposedly to escape predators. Problem is, these filthy buggers can be startled by pretty much anything vibrating in the water – like boat motors. And of course, those boats are full of people; people who typically don’t wear helmets. You can see where I’m going with this.
These fish can quickly turn a day on the river into a day at the hospital, with broken jaws, concussions and in one Peoria, Ill., woman’s case, a broken vertebra that left her unconscious in the water until fellow boaters could pull her out.
Since the carps’ population boom in the last few years, legislators have apparently twiddled their thumbs in coming up with the most B.A. method of disposing the Silver Scourge. Bowfishing has gained popularity, but why bother constantly reeling arrows back in when you can just fire a shot and be done with it? Enter a new push in the Illinois General Assembly.
House Bill 5317, introduced by Rep. Dave Winters (R-Shirland), would allow a statewide pilot program that would “permit licensed individuals to shoot Asian carp with a shotgun off of a motorboat in the Illinois River beginning with the 2013 licensing year,” provided that said individuals have the proper licenses and are using a specific ammunition.
The editors here at Petersen’s Hunting understand the potential danger of firing a few rounds of buckshot from a speeding boat – particularly within the limits of cities right on the river — which is why we would humbly suggest a couple amendments to the bill.
First, would a no-wake law hurt? Carpers (as I’ve chosen to call them) can only fire a shotgun if the boat is traveling at a certain speed, no doubt making the water far less choppy.
Second, use some common sense and don’t fire your Remington 870 all willy-nilly when your boat is only a few yards from the marina dock. We don’t want that couple on the boardwalk to take an ambulance ride anytime soon.
That said, we’re all for blasting this nasty nuisance to kingdom come, and when this bill becomes a law, we’re going to be the first ones on the river making fishsticks.
For photographic evidence of just how dangerous the silver carp can be, check out these photos by Jeff Konway.
Read more: http://www.petersenshunting.com/featured/shooting-asian-carp-with-s...