Drought Kills Carp - But Not Enough

by Chris Landers

Photo of a carp on the shore

Last summer's drought closed rivers to navigation and destroyed crops across the Midwest, but there was one casualty that was mourned by no one. Thousands of invasive Asian carp turned up dead in oxygen-depleted streams and lakes, cut off from escape by lowered water levels. The fish are known to leap out of the water at the sound of a boat engine, in some cases injuring boaters. But will drought-induced die-offs make any difference in the spread of the hated fish that now threaten to invade the Great Lakes?

"Boy, we really wish it would," says Rebecca O'Hearn, a scientist for the Department of Conservation in Missouri, where 20,000 fish, mostly Asian carp, died in Lake Contrary, an hour north of Kansas City. "Unfortunately, it's probably not enough to even make a dent in the population."

In Indiana, carp die-offs near the Wabash River inspired a tentatively hopeful press release from the state Department of Natural Resources: “Current [drought] conditions across Indiana may have a dull bronze lining, at least in some instances," it read, but the news still wasn't great.

Aquatic species coordinator Doug Keller of the Indiana DNR said the carp were dying off in backwater areas, which were more susceptible to the drought, and where fewer other species choose to live, anyway. Lower water levels also cause carp to congregate in the remaining deep-water areas, posing a greater hazard for boaters, a problem reported elsewhere in Indiana.

Missouri's O'Hearn said that the number of carp in the fish kills in her state weren't necessarily a good sign for other, desirable fish. Carp can withstand tough times, and they may just be the last ones left after other species have died and been eaten by scavengers.

"It's got to be pretty bad for the carp to die", she said.