All Hands On DeckStopping the Spread of Invasive Carp

New Science Can Help Determine How to Manage Invasive Carp in the Missouri River Basin.

Silver carp with white background
Silver carp. Photo by Sam Stukel/USFWS
A carp jumping out of water and slapping a man in the face with its tailfin while he’s in a boat
Carp jumping out of water by GIPHY

Holy Carp!

Invasive carp is a general term for a handful of non-native carp species that reproduce and spread rapidly, causing harm within their new environments. In other words — holy carp, they are bad! Bighead and silver carp specifically are a large concern within the Missouri River Basin due to their increasing numbers. Unprecedented flooding of the Missouri River in 2011 advanced the spread of invasive carp because higher water levels allowed the fish to move past normal barriers such as dams. Despite their growing numbers, there still isn’t enough information available to find a solution to stop the spread.

Close-up of juvenile bighead carp with white background
Close-up of juvenile silver carp with white background
Left Photo: Juvenile bighead carp by Sam Stukel/USFWS | Right Photo: Juvenile silver carp by Sam Stukel/USFWS

Schooling Together to Stop the Spread

To find solutions to this growing problem, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists have teamed up with North and South Dakota Game and Fish Departments, the University of South Dakota, as well as several experts from the FWS Whitney Genetics Lab in Wisconsin to monitor invasive carp in the Missouri River Basin. The Missouri River Natural Resources Committee is at the heart of this collaborative effort. The committee released a control strategy framework in 2018 calling for the collection of information about the location, invasive carp numbers compared to other aquatic species in the area, carp behavior, and more to help find some solutions.

What is eDNA?

Stopping the spread of invasive carp relies on early detection of invasive carp in areas of concern. The key to early detection may lie in eDNA sampling. What is eDNA, you ask? eDNA, short for environmental DNA, involves testing water samples for evidence such as skin cells, mucus, or feces left behind by invasive carp. This method can help establish if invasive carp are present without having to physically capture one. This approach can help conserve resources and precious time, especially in areas where encroaching carp populations are sparse. When dealing with rapidly spreading invasive species, time is literally money.

5 people standing in or near a river collecting water samples
Biologists with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and University of South Dakota collect water samples from the Big Sioux River, near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to test for eDNA from invasive carp. Photo by Tait Ronningen/USFWS

Swimming to New Waters of Research

In June 2021, biologists with the Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office launched the first round of eDNA sampling in the Big Sioux River at Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the Lake Vermillion Spillway near Canistota, South Dakota. The work done in June will be a blueprint for future eDNA sampling in the basin.

Man holding a tray with tubes of water samples. River and trees in background.
Two people holding tubes with water samples in a lab
Left: Biologist Jason Kral, carries water samples from the Big Sioux River near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to be tested for eDNA from invasive carp. Photo by USFWS Right: Biologists Dan James (back) and Jenna Bloomfield (front) prepare water samples collected from the Big Sioux River for eDNA testing. Photo by Jason Kral/USFWS
Men in a boat surrounded by multiple silver carp jumping out of water. Green trees and blue sky in background.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collecting invasive silver carp during telemetry study in South Dakota below Gavins Point Dam. Photo by Jason Kral/USFWS

The Fight Isn’t Over Yet

Monitoring is just one component of the FWS’s strategy to stop the spread of invasive carp, albeit an important one. Early detection and studies on existing populations will help efficiently contain and manage carp in the Missouri River Basin. In doing so, the basin, its species, and all its wonder can be preserved as an important habitat as well as an oasis providing the many recreational opportunities we all enjoy.

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