After a rumor of an Asian silver (flying) carp being caught below the dam at Barnett Reservoir were confirmed as true by state wildlife officials, the online jokes began immediately.
However, as funny as watching people create new sports based on catching carp while skiing or shooting them from a boat with gun or bow, it is no joking matter the havoc they could cause for the popular fishing lake.
“They can wreak havoc on the natural food chain, and the fishery,” said Larry Pugh, chief of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “They can be quite prolific.”
Pugh said biologists were stunned to learn of the existence of the single carp that first appeared in a Facebook post in November. He said the spillway is a site of annual fall electro-fishing surveys and no Asian or Asian silver carp have ever been found — not in the mature size of the fish captured or in the juvenile stage. Evidence of juveniles would be considered more harmful as it would indicate successful spawning by carp in the Pearl River at Jackson.
While there are still questions of the source, it is suspected that any carp reaching the Pearl would have come from the Mississippi River through the Bonnet Carré Spillway on Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans.
“How else, unless someone put them there,” Pugh said.
Bonnet Carré is used to divert flood waters from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. The Pearl River empties into Lake Bourne, which is between Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. Bonnet Carré was opened during the 2011 Mississippi River flood event.
Evidence of carp in the lower Pearl River was found in 2013 and earlier this year, one was verified in the Pearl River near Slidell.
To reach the waters below the Barnett Reservoir dam from the lower Pearl, carp would have to maneuver past the lowhead dam about 5 miles south of the reservoir. That is doable in times of high water, when the lowhead dam is topped.
So is the fear of carp reaching the main lake of Barnett Reservoir realistic? Well, with help, they could.
While silver carp have become famous for the amazing — and dangerous — leaping ability, Pugh said “no way” could a carp fly high enough to clear the dam, which would require a leap exceeding five stories.
But, inadvertent transfer by a fisherman is a real fear, especially if carp successfully spawn and fingerlings exist in the tailrace area. Those waters are often used by cast-netters to catch shad for use as catfish bait in Barnett Reservoir and other waters.
Pugh agreed that the average netter might have a hard time telling the difference between a baby carp and a shad, without taking a good look.
“The fear is that most fishermen would just put them in their bait buckets and go on,” he said. “That’s about the only way (for carp to get in the lake from the tailrace).”
The 2011 flood provided carp the opportunity to spread from the Mississippi River to many lakes and streams in the Delta, which now are overrun with the fish. Since these lakes and streams are extremely fertile from years of shoreline agricultural practices, the phytoplankton on which carp feed is plentiful. Carp thrive and can grow upwards of 40 or 50 pounds, and in rare cases, 70 or 80.
Imagine getting hit in the head by a 20 pounder at 50 miles an hour.
There’s nothing funny about that.