The discovery of an unwanted silver carp in the James River was not good news. Neither was it unexpected. A fisherman caught the carp while fishing near LaMoure. It was the first time a silver carp, classified as an aquatic nuisance species, has been documented within the state's borders.
Both silver and bighead carp, another aquatic nuisance species, can be found in the Missouri River below Gavin's Point Dam in South Dakota and also in the Lower James and Big Sioux Rivers. It is speculated that this year's high water flows made it easy for silver carp to move far upstream, all the way to the LaMoure area.
"It is just another ANS that has gotten into the state," said Lynn Schlueter, North Dakota Game and Fish Department special projects biologist. "The cumulative effect can be outrageous on the resource."
Silver carp are prolific plankton feeders, plankton that is an important food source for young gamefish. It that food source is utilized by silver carp, it means less of a chance of survival for fish preferred by anglers.
Silver carp are a nuisance in another way too. They leap from the water when startled, sometimes crashing into boaters, jet ski operators and waterskiers. Severe injuries from leaping fish have been documented.
"They are the flying fish," says Schlueter. "They can get 30 pounds plus, even 100 in their home range."
Silver carp generally move in groups, not individually, leaving open the possibility that several dozen breeding age silver carp could be roaming the North Dakota portion of the James River.
"We electro-fished and did find one more," said Schlueter. "Another part I didn't want to hear was young-of-the-year fish turning up near Mitchell, South Dakota."
Schlueter cautioned that silver carp could have moved into some of the small tributaries feeding into the James within North Dakota. How far they have made it upstream is really an unknown. Finding a few fish in a river system is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Whether or not silver carp can actually establish themselves in North Dakota is also an unknown.
"I believe they have a chance," said Schlueter. "It is a winter hardy fish but we are extreme winters. Time is going to tell. They are spring spawners in flowing rivers. Their eggs are buoyant and they grow quickly."
In the meantime all operators of watercraft are urged to remain vigilant and follow all of the state's rules and regulations concerning aquatic nuisance species.
"Drain, dry and don't dump bait overboard," Schlueter said. "If you catch one, call the department and ask permission to bring it in."