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Eugene Weekly : Feature : 4.21.11

Eugene Weekly's Earth Day Issue:

Carpe the Carp Stalking the elusive *Kentucky tunain Oregon waters

Pretty, Bad Mute swans in Oregonû

Bees, Baby, Baby, Bees Nonnatives make the world go round

Dont Feed the Birds Wild turkeys are really feral

Not So Big, Not So Bad Wolves return to Oregon, cause a ruckus in Congress

Will Work for Food Nonnative earthworms move slow, compost fast

Crawfish, Crawdad, Crayfish Whatever you call them ... theyre invading Oregon

 

Carpe the Carp

Stalking the elusive *Kentucky tunain Oregon waters

By Dante ZuÀiga-West

In the ponds, rivers, lakes and backwaters of Oregon lurk invaders who have been here for decades. Hard-fighting behemoths, hidden beneath vegetation and murk, they have escaped captivity to wreak havoc. They thrive in our waterways, destroying the habitat, bullying native species and, if their bigger, scarier friends get here, we could be in for a nasty series of events. We must hunt them ‹ all of them ‹ now. I gave it my best shot.

Photo by Todd Cooper

Common carp have been in Oregon so long that most people are unaware these fish are an invasive species. Native to Eurasia and originally imported to aquaculture ponds in the Pacific Northwest, these bottom-feeding warm-water domestic invaders can grow upwards of thirty pounds. Carp in the wild get even bigger. The infamous silver carp can grow to be one hundred pounds in weight and is known to exhibit an unusual jumping behavior in response to the sound of boat motors.û

Imagine a hundred pound fish leaping out of the water and smacking you in the head while you are cruising down the Willamette. It happens often on the Mississippi River, where Asian carp are already a problem, causing reports of significant physical injury (broken jaws, concussions, etc). Rick Boatner, invasive species and wildlife integrity coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), says Oregon will be in øserious trouble" if Asian carp, specifically silver or bighead carp, find their way into our waters to join our common carp invaders. øSo far we dont have any reports of them here, but our habitat in the Willamette Valley is perfect for them," Boatner says.

Most troubling, Boatner says, are YouTube videos from the southern United States where people cruise through carp-infested water with loud motors and bowfish as the fish rise to jump. He worries that these videos will inspire locals to import silver and bighead carp into Oregons rivers.

Though ODFW has several different kinds of Asian carp on its radar screen ‹ grass, silver, bighead and black carp ‹ it is the common carp that we in the Willamette Valley see the most. They have a bronze-brownish color and, unlike Asian carp, which have eyes oddly placed on either side of their heads, common carp have eyes where youd expect to find them on a fish ‹ûmore toward the top. While not as violently dangerous to human physical wellbeing as their silver buddies, common carp are incredibly destructive to the local ecosystems.û

øThey eat fish eggs, microinvertebrates; they stir up sediment and destroy the vegetation that smaller fish need to hide in," Boatner says. øWe encourage people to catch and take them. Theres no limit to how many you can take." One $30 permit and youre good to go.

So the verdict came down from above: Hunt the invaders, go to their strongholds, seek them out and harvest them for the good of Mother Nature ‹ and for Oregon. If you cant beat *em, catch *em and eat *em. This is already happening in the South, and should the carp species boom in the Pacific Northwest it is likely that ODFW and some conservationist groups will more strongly urge fishermen to do the same. Its not just locavores; now we can be invasivores.

But I found myself somewhat discouraged in my hunt for the elusive øKentucky tuna." Id picked up a lead that there were carp in the Alton Baker canoe canal and made my way there with spear and rod. Yes, spear. Because carp are not considered by ODFW to be a game fish (similar to crayfish and bullfrogs), it is permissible to hunt them with bows and spears as well as rod and reel. I searched the canal for any sign of the øGolden Ghost," but saw nothing. A local fisherman and his son responded quizzically to my endeavor: øWhy you fishing for carp?"û asked the father. øYou want a mouthful of bones?"û

I returned with my limit of five rainbow trout, but no carp. Absolutely no one I encountered on my trips to the canal, Coyote Creek or Fern Ridge Reservoir suggested I attempt to eat a carp should I catch one. I didnt. Not many of my friends were excited about the prospect of coming along with me, either ‹ carp fishing can be a lonely sport in Oregon. Its best to go in the summer, when the water is warmer. û

Though the internet is full of interesting ways to cook and eat carp, the trend hasnt caught fire here in our state. Carp supposedly tastes like a cross between scallops and crab. Russian populations have been known to broil carp, and the fish is a staple among some Asian cultures. Ive yet to find out for myself how carp tastes, but Im not giving up. The invaders remain at large, to be hunted. û