Pulse of the river

Submitted photoSilver carp fly out of the water in unison in reaction to a passing watercraft.

The Mississippi River’s summer pulse of high water and strong currents has impacted recreational activities. On the bright side, high water flushes trash that litters the shoreline, pushing it to higher ground or sending it to our neighbors downriver. Extended periods of high water cause increased sedimentation and filling in of backwaters which is a chronic problem in our area.

High water provides perfect conditions for Asian carp (bigheads and silvers) to migrate upriver through the open-flowing locks and dams. These invaders escaped from Arkansas fish farms in the 1970s and began their trek north, south, east and west. They compete directly with our native fish in their diet of phytoplankton and have taken over much of the Illinois River fishery.

There have been increasing reports of Asian carp in our section of the Mississippi River. In April 2014, a 36 inch, 21 pound silver carp was caught in Dubuque and Asian carp eggs and embryos were discovered in a nearby area. A 73-pound bighead was caught in Sabula Lake in June 2012. Monster bigheads can weigh 90 pounds and measure 60 inches long. Local commercial fishermen infrequently report catching Asian carp.

Silver carp are the notorious flying fish that leap from the water in large numbers when a passing boat’s motor excites them. In waters where silver carp are abundant, accidents with people are common when boaters, skiers and tubers are hit by the flying fish. Two underwater electric barriers span the Sanitary Ship Canal near Chicago and emit shock waves to keep these invasive carp from entering Lake Michigan and impacting the multi-million dollar fishing industry.

Federal and state agencies that have the responsibility to manage river resources are continually challenged to maintain a healthy river system. New exotic species and climate change impact natural resources. Commercial navigation and public recreation are a vital part of the river’s economy so management strategies must take into consideration the needs of each activity.

Planning for the Beaver Island Habitat Restoration and Enhancement project is progressing. Potential project features are being analyzed to determine floodplain impacts and resource benefits. The primary issue being addressed is sedimentation that has filled in the backwater lakes. Excavation of sedimentation is expensive, especially to dispose of hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of material.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently revising its Master Plan for managing 314 miles of Mississippi River from Guttenberg to Saverton, Missouri. This document guides the orderly development, administration, maintenance, preservation, enhancement and management of all natural, cultural and recreational resources of Corps lands and waters. Primary issues include shoreline use and recreation area management. Public scoping meetings were held in June. You can follow the plan’s progress at website www.missriver.org.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently revising guidelines for commercial activities (excluding navigation) that are conducted on Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The refuge includes 261 miles of Mississippi River and 240,000 acres of federal public lands and waters. New guidelines for commercial waterfowl guiding were released in June. They identify one commercial guide in Pool 14 and two guides in Pool 13 with designated guide use areas in each pool.

The refuge’s 2006 Comprehensive Conservation Plan requires that commercial activities be managed as an appropriate use under a specific plan. Guidelines for other commercial activities, such as fishing guides, fishing tournaments, furbearer trapping, outfitters, commercial fishing, and fish floats will be revised in the future. You can follow the refuge’s planning progress at www.fws.gov/refuge/upper_mississippi_river. www.fws.gov/refuge/upper_mississippi_river.

Ed Britton is a wildlife refuge manager on Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and volunteer at Bickelhaupt Arboretum.