Student's summer job is a real fishing expedition
David Seibert's summer job is a plum in comparison with routine options for college sophomores, but crouching in an aluminum plate boat recently in rubber waders in the middle of Hennepin and Hopper lakes, Seibert wasn't so sure.
Viscous yellow-brown carp eggs, scales, blood and foamy sprays of milky fish secretions dripped down his legs.
"Oh no," he moaned, tightening his jaw when Mark Bogner tossed him another section of trammel net dangling with 10-pound carp, one discharging a thick stream of yellow-brown eggs. A flip of the tail and the oozing emulsion sailed through the air. Seibert wiped a splotch off his cheek.
The men are part of a major effort to harvest carp out of the lakes which are managed by The Wetlands Initiative, a not-for-profit organization based in Chicago and dedicated to wetland restoration throughout the Midwest. Work at the lakes is research formulated and emulated by universities and conservation organizations throughout the country.
In a boat in the middle of this wetland about an hour north of Peoria, Bogner looked at Seibert and said, "The eggs are just rolling out of these things. My God, I'm getting egged myself. My foot is brown with the stuff."
At the boat throttle was Seibert's father, Rick Seibert, who has lived in the Hennepin area all his life and is site manager at Hennepin and Hopper lakes, which have become seriously overpopulated with what scientists calculate is 200,000 pounds of spawning common carp.
Each female carp has an estimated million eggs, and the male carp work doggedly to fertilize them, even swimming headlong into nets coated with the emulsion from previous catches.
The big head Asian carp are, at least at this point, restricted to the Illinois River and not posing an immediate threat to these wetlands diked off from the river.
Donald Hey, president of The Wetlands Initiative, is hoping the harvest now under way collects 150,000 pounds of carp, with the remainder kept in check by predatory fish such as Northern pike and Muskies.
The Wetlands Initiative hired Shawn Price, a fisherman out of Fulton, to head the harvest. Last week, Price pulled out 7,380 pounds. This day, he's hoping for a total of 8,000 pounds. He worked out of one plate boat while the Seiberts and Bogner worked out of another.
Rick Seibert steered a 30 horsepower Evinrude motor, guiding his boat across the lakes to a point where Bogner began throwing out 500 yards of trammel net. Once the net stretched across one section of the lakes, the boat veered south and the crew armed itself with toilet bowl plungers modified with four-foot handles.
Each man thrust his plunger straight down on the water, creating a deep popping noise which the carp hate. The maneuver is referred to as herding the fish. In their haste to flee, the carp swim into the nets and become lodged in the 2 1/2-inch openings.
To dislodge or shuck the fish, David Seibert works with a 3-inch nail, pulling back the netting and tugging out the fish. At 10 to 12 pounds, the carp are a good 12 inches of twisting protest.
"That Sago pondweed over there is really coming on this year, but the carp root it up," Rick Seibert said, noting that the pondweed is a favorite of ducks and its pervasive presence in the lakes is creating optimism for duck hunting season this autumn. Besides rooting out this coveted aquatic plant, the carp compete for food and create turbidity difficult for native fish to deal with.
Most significantly, carp out-spawn anything in the lakes.
Carp are selling for about 10 cents a pound. Price figures the earliest catch of the day will become organic fertilizer, with the catch later in the day getting to Schafer's Fisheries in Thomson in time for processing and shipment to overseas markets. The sale price of carp doesn't cover operating costs, so The Wetlands Initiative is paying a stipend in addition to that.
As a scientist, Hey has a backup plan already in mind if this method of harvest fails to control the carp. Next, he'll try sending an electric current through the lakes that will stun all fish. The fish will float to the top and a crew will vacuum up only the carp, leaving the other fish to regain consciousness and swim away.
If that also fails, the standard control method is to drain the lakes every five to eight years, but that method kills both carp and desired game fish.
Hey is reluctant to do that. So he's working on a third backup option to control a fish that was introduced to America in the mid-1800s and has since spawned out of control.
"I'll tell you what. Even with this situation, the carp is a pretty meat," Rick Seibert said, admiring the classic form and clean flesh of the fish. "I treat the carp like any invasive species. The goal is control, but we'll never completely eliminate."
Price, the commercial fisherman hired for the harvest, is formulating his own backup plan. This winter he may try to get a seine net under the ice near a spot where the fish congregate.
Seine nets are often seen looking like graceful wings on commercial fishing craft. In the battle with common carp, Price's plan is an innovative use of seine nets.
"Carp are not stupid," he said, noting that the toilet bowl plunger-herding technique will become predictable. "They'll figure out what we're doing. I've got a couple of new ideas. With carp, you can't use the same technique all the time."
Clare Howard can be reached at (309) 686-3250 or email@example.com.