Invasive Carp Making Way To Allegheny, Mon Rivers, Threaten Local Populations

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
22 December 2016
By Mary Ann Thomas

Decimating native fish populations and jumping up to 3 feet out the water en masse, Asian carp are working their way toward the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers and state environmental agencies are bracing for the onslaught.

Two species of the invasive carp — silver and bighead — can make their way to the Pittsburgh area via the Ohio River within the next 10 years, according to experts.
A monster of a fish, the carp can weigh up to 40 pounds.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission combed the river bottom for Asian carp in prospective wintering grounds in the Allegheny River near Harmar and the Montgomery pool of the Ohio River, five miles down river from Beaver.

They came up empty — this time.

Although, the fish isn't officially in the state, its DNA has been found in the Montgomery pool and a small population was eradicated from a pay-to-fish lake in Eighty Four this year, according to Rick Lorson, area fisheries manager for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Bighead carp have been found as close as the Wheeling area near the Pennsylvania state line and the silver carp in Eureka, Ohio, about 240 miles from the state line, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“There is a reasonable likelihood they will be in Pennsylvania,” Lorson said. “Once they enter our waters, we will work to eradicate them.”

Currently, Asian carp are found in at least 1,000 miles of inland waterways in about 20 states along the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri rivers, according to Charlie Wooley, deputy regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis, Minn.

The Invasion

In just the past year, the silver carp expanded 64 miles upstream in the Ohio River from Wheelersburg, Ohio, to Eureka, Ohio.

“It's a bit disconcerting but not unexpected,” Wooley said.

In waters where they dominate, the silver carp have made a splash, literally, jumping as high as 3 feet out of the water when scared by boats. The fish pose a danger to boaters and others on the water when large schools erupt out of the water, hitting boaters and landing in their vessels, as illustrated in numerous YouTube videos.

But that's the least of their offenses.

Asian carp can devour food supplies and take over the habitat of native fish. The worst cases have been in the middle of the Illinois River, according to Wooley, where Asian carp have outcompeted native commercial and sports fish 10 to one.

If the invasive carp takes hold of the Great Lakes, it could threaten the $7 billion sport and commercial fisheries, impacting thousands of jobs, he said.
It's unknown how much damage the carp could inflict on the three rivers in the Pittsburgh area and beyond.

“It doesn't take much to draw a conclusion that these large fish can be abundant when the food resources are there and they could out-compete our native fish that feed in the same way,” said Charles Bier, senior director of conservation science at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and a member of the state's Invasive Species Council.
The slack, slow water in the lower Allegheny between the locks and dams might prove attractive for spawning carp, Wooley and Lorson said.

Lorson estimates that if the carp became established, they could reduce local fish populations by 30 to 50 percent.

Perhaps the greatest ecological loss to the voracious fish's appetite would be damage to the wild Allegheny River beyond the last lock and dam in Madison Township, Armstrong County.

Over the years, Bier and the conservancy have documented federally endangered mussels in that part of the river with populations that can be found no other place in the world.

Marked For Extermination

Before the carp could reach the wild Allegheny though, Lorson assured there would be an all-out effort to eradicate them.

Electric current barriers installed by the Army Corps of Engineers near Romeoville, Ill., in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal have stopped the carp from heading into the Great Lakes, Wooley said.

Throughout this summer, commercial fisherman 30 miles south of the electrical barriers corralled thousands of Asian carp in nets, pulling in more than 1 million pounds of fish, Wooley said.

Exactly how Pennsylvania officials would attack Asian carp that reach state waters won't be known until the numbers of invading fish are determined, Lorson said. State fisheries officials are evaluating methods used in other states, such as paying commercial fishermen to net schools of fish en masse or the use of electric barriers.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or