Reporting Bill Hudson
NEWPORT, Minn. (WCCO) — On a picturesque October morning, commercial fisherman Tim Adams is framed by colorful leaves and a bright blue sky. He’s plying the smooth waters of the Mississippi river near Newport.
But his morning trip is as much one of fact finding as it is fishing. He and his partner George are working the backwaters in search of Asian carp.
“There’s gotta be some here,” Adams said, in a confident voice.
The Wabasha area fisherman is an expert when it comes to catching Asian carp. Adams spent many days this past summer fishing the rich waters of the Illinois river near Havana, where Asian carp have all but forced all other fish out of existence.
One species in particular, the silver carp, are well known for their leaping explosions when disturbed by the vibrations of a passing boat.
Not only are the invasive carp destroying habitat for more desirable game fish, their aerobatic antics strip the pleasure from recreational boating.
“Yes, I’ve been hit. I got cracked ribs back in August,” Adams said. “It still hurts, I’ve still got the bruise and there’s still a mark.”
On Oct. 20, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources confirmed what has long been feared. Asian carp have now made their way up the Mississippi River and are knocking at the door to Minnesota’s rich land of 10,000 lakes.
The DNR has been performing water sampling along the river for evidence of the carp’s environmental DNA. In 20 of 49 samples analyzed, testing came back positive to indicate the carp’s presence as far north as the Ford Dam.
“The eDNA sampling tells us where there’s some presence or absence of the fish,” said Brian Nerbonne, of the DNR. “So we’re doing the netting to give us a better idea what numbers were dealing with and just how imminent the threat is right now for the numbers of fish we’re moving through.”
With a sense of urgency, the DNR contracted Adams to begin an actual search for the carp. With his gillnet stretched from shore to shore, he’ll maneuver his large aluminum boat back and forth in a sweeping motion — herding the carp into the nets like a cowboy does to cattle.
“You’ll know, they’re more silver colored, and their eyes are down. There will be no doubt,” Adams said.
But as the catch comes up it’s quickly apparent there are plenty of carp in the net, just not the leaping variety of silver carp he’s after.
In a way, it’s a mixed blessing. Finding no Asian carp means that perhaps there’s still time for the state to implement control measures to contain the carp’s spread. Adams points out that if this were the Illinois river, he’d have a boatful of Asian carp and nothing else.
“They just annihilate the native species, they’re out compete. They’re right at the top of the food chain and it’s just bad,” Adams said.