CORNWALL, Ontario – A St. Lawrence River expert says the introduction of an invasive fish recently caught east of the city has the potential to be a “game changer” locally.
CBC reported on the weekend that anglers in Lanoraie, Que. caught an Asian carp – perhaps the only one in the St. Lawrence River – but it was enough to set off alarm bells among fishery types who fear that the introduction of the fish will decimate the local population of perch, pickerel and bass.
“Think about how zebra mussels changed the St. Lawrence River,” said Dr. Jeff Ridal, executive director of the St. Lawrence River Institute. “We have seen this whole process of zebra mussels come in and it took over – and the native clams are no longer present.
“We also now have the round gobies. And anyone who fishes knows about their impact. Some species have done well. Bass seem to be eating round goby. But when you have a fish like (the Asian carp), which can grow up to 60 pounds, it’s a complete game changer.”
The scary thing – when it comes to Asian carp – is its ability to eat and reproduce. The fish can consume up to 20 per cent of its body weight in plankton each day and reproduce to the point of pushing out other native species.
When asked if fish like our beloved perch, pickerel and bass could be impacted by the introduction of Asian carp, Ridal said that is a worry.
“There is a real concern amongst all groups this could have fundamentally the largest impact we have ever seen on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River,” he said.
While the fish caught in Quebec could be the only one, in recent years the Asian carp has been found in a small section of Lake Erie. And last summer, nine were caught in the Toronto area. All of those waterways feed the St. Lawrence River.
“The Asian carp is something that has certainly been discussed quite a bit as a potential invader to the Great Lakes,” said Ridal. “We know it is in the Mississippi River.
“They are very prolific. They produce a lot of offspring. They have great potential to spread and they sort of…they can almost take over the ecosystem and disrupt the normal food chain that lives in the St. Lawrence River. It’s very hard to predict how big of an impact and what the impact will be.”
The Asian carp has also been the subject of some online viral videos. Schools of fish have been known to jump out of the water at the passage of a boat – which might seem humourous, until passengers get smacked.