Beginning May 28, fishermen who net baitfish in the tailraces of Mississippi’s reservoir dams will no longer be allowed to transport their catch alive, under a new rule passed by the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.

The change targets the spread of non-native fish — silver and Asia carp in particular — from reaching the main bodies of lakes like Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson. Other lakes affected by this rule include U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control projects Arkabutla, Enid, Grenada, Sardis, Okatibbee, Aberdeen, Columbus and Bluff lakes.

The Fisheries Bureau of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) said anglers using dip or landing nets, cast nets, boat mounted scoops, wire baskets, minnow seines, and minnow traps in dam spillway areas to capture minnows, shad, non-game gross fish and non-native fish must immediately place their catch on ice or in a dry container. 

“This rule is being implemented to prevent the spread of live non-native fish species like silver carp and bighead carp to new waters,” said Fisheries Coordinator Dennis Riecke. “Since these fish are difficult to distinguish from shad when small, they could be introduced into new waters when used or discarded as live bait.”

The carp has been reported in almost all Mississippi River tributaries in the Mississippi Delta, which includes the rivers that form the spillway areas below the major flood control projects. Silver carp, known as flying carp for their uncanny and dangerous leaps out of the water, spread rapidly from the Mississippi River during the 2011 flood and continue to be problematic.

Oddly enough, carp have also been reported in the Pearl River and one was actually caught by a fisherman in the Barnett Reservoir spillway. Many have been collected in surveys below the lowhead dam about five miles south of the Barnett dam, the last obstacle before the reservoir spillway and one that can be passed in high water events.

Carp in the Pearl River, biologists say, have already proven their ability to survive and overcome obstacles. It is suspected that carp reached the Pearl after the 2011 flood when the high waters forced the opening of Bonnet Carrie Spillway near New Orleans to allow water to flow from the river into Lake Pontchartrain. From there, the carp had to traverse nearly the length of the giant lake to exit into the Rigolets at the southeast end of Pontchartrain, swim toward Lake Bourne and the Gulf of Mexico, and turn up into the mouth of the East Pearl River.

From there, it is about a 200-mile swim upriver to the Barnett Reservoir spillway.

“They obviously can’t jump the dam at Barnett, but they could conceivably be caught as juveniles by a netter seeking shad in the spillway area,” said MDWFP Central Mississippi fisheries biologist Ryan Jones. “Biologists have to take a hard look to tell the difference, so the public would have a hard time. That’s one way they could be introduced from the spillway to the main lake.”