TERRE HAUTE — When Terre Haute native Brendan Kearns posted video at www.purplepug.com of his Wabash River encounter with Asian carp, the video soon went viral.
The four-plus-minute video of large fish jumping into the air and flopping into Kearns' boat has been viewed more than 1.3 million times, and it certainly caught the attention of state and federal fish and wildlife officials.
John Goss, officially known as the Asian carp director for the White House's Council on Environmental Quality — but quietly known as the "carp czar" — said the video illustrates both the danger to boaters from the "flying" fish and their population explosion during the past decade.
"It opened people's eyes and their minds to how unusual the Asian carp population is," Goss said while standing on a sandbar in the Wabash River, about eight miles north of Fairbanks Park in Terre Haute.
"I think (the video) helps people visualize how big the problem is, so it's helped speed up the discussion," he said.
Indeed, federal and state officials have reacted swiftly to the threat of Asian carp entering the Great Lakes by installing electrified fences in the Illinois River to keep them from spreading north into Lake Michigan. Another "fish fence" has been installed near Fort Wayne to keep Asian carp from spreading to a marsh that is fed by a river that has connectors to Lake Erie.
On a sunny Tuesday set aside to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the Health Rivers INitiative, Goss was joined by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Department of Natural Resources officials on the banks of the Wabash River for a public ceremony to celebrate the success of the Healthy Rivers project in protecting Hoosier wetlands.
Even with the influx of Asian carp, the Wabash River is considered a healthy river because of its water quality and environment.
"I don't know of another thing that government does that brings people together like this Healthy Rivers project," Daniels said to the more than 150 people gathered at Fairbanks Park. "This is one nobody can disagree with. When people hear about it, they instantly support it."
Daniels announced HRI in June 2010 as the largest land conservation initiative in state history. The project set a goal of conserving nearly 70,000 acres in the floodplains of two river corridors — the Wabash River and Sugar Creek tributary in western Indiana and the Muscatatuck River in south-central Indiana.
To date, 29,492 acres have been placed under permanent protection from development. The protected acreage includes 16,064 acres of land already managed by DNR in the Shades and Turkey Run state parks, as well as two fish and wildlife areas — Wabashiki and Fairbanks Landing — along with acreage of several smaller DNR-managed properties. Wabashiki and Fairbanks Landing serve as anchor points for HRI.
Daniels praised the serene landscape of the river, calling it "as pretty a site as is available anywhere in the State of Indiana."
Tuesday's celebration included comments from several HRI project partners, including Charlie Wooley, deputy regional director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Jane Hardisty with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service; and Mary McConnell, director of the Indiana chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
And, two groups — the Wabash River Heritage Corridor Commission and the Wabash River Development and Beautification board — recognized Daniels for his conservation leadership efforts by presenting the governor with awards.
Conservation should be a natural part of government, Daniels said, claiming that he did not realize until a few years ago that Indiana is doing some unique things in supporting projects along the Wabash River corridor and around the state. Such projects are "not merely prudent, but actions of broader, regional, even national significance," the governor said.
Tuesday's pleasant sunny skies made for an enjoyable day on the river for the group that motored upriver to the sandbar to where Bud Montgomery of the Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department had cooked up some Asian carp in a demonstration.
Using all-purpose flour and blackened seasoning, Montgomery deep-fried the bite-size fish chunks in 350-degree cooking oil for about eight minutes.
Carp in general is known as a bony fish, and the many varieties of Asian carp are no exception. Taste-testers had to be wary of the thin bony slivers throughout the flaky white fish.
Overcoming the stigma of being named "carp" is one issue in getting people to eat the fish. Another is catching the fish. Since Asian carp feed on plankton and algae, they will not bite on worm or insect bait. The only way to catch them is with nets, said Doug Keller, DNR's aquatics invasives coordinator.
In the Illinois River, commercial fishermen use nets to capture Asian carp, then sell them to a processing company to be turned into organic fertilizer. That could happen in Indiana, he said, if a market for the fish develops.
The non-native Asian carp were introduced into the Mississippi River Basin after flooding in Arkansas allowed the fish to escape some aquaculture facilities where they were used as imported natural controls for the hatcheries, in place of chemical controls.
The carp soon spread into surrounding waterways, and especially blossomed in the Illinois, Ohio and Mississippi rivers where a series of dams create impounded pools of water where the fish can thrive on algae and plankton. The Wabash River is a free-flowing waterway, so the Asian carp have not spread as quickly up the Wabash and its tributaries.
But DNR officials are being active trying to stop the spread of the pesky fish into Hoosier lakes and streams.
DNR Director Rob Carter distributed hot-off-the-presses fliers that will be shared at bait shops and boat ramps around the state to warn boaters and sport fishers about the dangers of transferring Asian carp from one waterway to another.
"Don't collect bait from the Wabash and then go fish in Raccoon Lake or wherever," Carter said. "The bait issue is a big focus."
The flier explains that the native gizzard shad, a common baitfish, looks similar to young silver carp and bighead carp, which are two varieties of Asian carp. If a person unwittingly uses one of the Asian varieties as bait in a freshwater lake or pond, the devastating carp could spread.
A silver carp can get up to 3 feet in length and can weigh up to 60 pounds. A bighead carp can get up to 5 feet in length and can weigh up to 100 pounds.
The Asian carp strip waterways of algae and plankton, which are the base of the food chain for other native fish species, and can almost completely displace other more desirable species.
"We want to protect the diversity of the native fish," Carter said.
Carp czar Goss said that a range of alternatives to resolve the Asian carp problem should be recommended by 2013. Those alternatives could include a toxin to kill the fish, such as the toxin used to stop the spread of invasive lampreys in the Great Lakes.
"We need to have more discussion of what to do on the Wabash," Goss said. "Indiana sits right in the middle of the carp issue."
And Goss again thanked Kearns for making the world aware of the Asian carp issue by posting his somewhat humorous flying fish video.
"You have helped make them (Asian carp) the poster child, and move this forward," Goss said.
Kearns, however, noted that he didn't make any profit from posting his video, but said he would take donations.
In a more practical point, Goss noted that the state can save money by acting now to stop the spread of the invasive fish.
"The cost is astronomical to get rid of them," Goss said.