Commercial fishing aimed at carp invasion

Now Media Group


Biologists hope commercial fishing will end a carp invasion at Malheur Wildlife Refuge, years after the bottom-feeding fish completed a takeover of Malheur Lake.

The carp have created an ecosystem that no longer supports the plants and insect life that birds rely upon for food and habitat, The Oregonian reports.

Managers of the migratory bird sanctuary south of Burns have tried dynamite, poison, putting screens across the waterways and suffocating the fish by draining water from lakes and ponds.

'Every time, it would be two, three, maybe four years before they'd repopulate,' refuge manager Chad Karges said. 'They're the perfect invasive species. There's very little that will kill them.'

Now they're going to try fishing the carp out of there, with help from the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation and Tualatin-based Pacific Foods, best known for boxed soup and soymilk.

A five-year contract began this year, but drought kept lake waters too low to start fishing. But by spring 2016, the team hopes to begin removing thousands of fish from the water each day.

As many as 4 million pounds of carp could come out of the lake next year. The meat, which most Americans won't eat, will be used to fertilize Chuck Eggert's crops.

Eggert, who owns Pacific Foods, has formed a side company, Silver Sage Fisheries, to deal with the castaway carp. Once taken from the lake, the fish will be trucked to Burns for processing before being spread across alfalfa fields that feed Eggert's dairy cows.

'It's been enjoyable to get a broader partnership going to address what has become a longstanding issue, while putting the waste to use,' said Tim Greseth, the executive director of Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation, who worked with Eggert to develop the fertilizer concept.

Unlike past carp control efforts, the goal this time isn't to eradicate the fish. Instead, workers hope to remove enough carp to trigger an 'ecological tipping point,' loosening their stranglehold so plants and insects can rebound and then provide enough food for the millions of birds that historically have rested here during their migrations.

Organizers hope a few years of intensive fishing will do the job. In subsequent years, lighter maintenance fishing should keep the fish at bay.

'We're trying for a more sustainable carp control, instead of the shotgun approach,' said Linda Beck, the refuge's fish biologist.