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SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa – The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has verified the presence of bighead carp in East Okoboji Lake after two fish were collected Tuesday during the DNR's annual fish sampling effort.
Bighead carp, native to Asia, are present in the Missouri River, Mississippi River, Des Moines River and the lower reaches of their tributaries. It is not known for certain how bigheads got in to East Okoboji Lake, but fisheries experts believe that the flooding on the Missouri and Little Sioux rivers allowed these fish to pass over the Little Sioux Dam in Harrison County and the Linn Grove Dam in Buena Vista County.
Bighead carp were found in the Little Sioux River below the Linn Grove Dam in 1996, and the samples collected Tuesday was the first time bighead carp had been found above that barrier.
Bighead carp are part of a group of fish known as Asian carp, which includes silver carp, grass carp, and black carp.
Silver carp are best known for their ability to jump out of the water when startled, however, bighead carp do not exhibit this behavior.
"At this time, we do not know if silver carp migrated into the lakes along with bigheads," said Joe Larscheid, chief of the fisheries bureau for the Iowa DNR.
Bighead carp feed on plankton and may compete with native fish, like buffalo, some panfish and larval sport fish, for food.
"We do not anticipate much angler interaction with these fish because they are a plankton eater and will most likely need to be snagged to be caught," said Larscheid.
"We also believe these fish will have a difficult time reproducing in a large natural lake because bighead carp require large river systems to spawn. If this is the case, it is unlikely the population will increase unless we receive additional fish through future high water events," he said.
The two bighead carp, one 14 inches and one 15 inches, were collected in seine hauls near the narrows on East Okoboji Lake on August 9. Spirit Lake was also sampled at the same time and did not have any bighead carp among the fish collected. It is unknown how many fish entered the lakes, but the DNR will continue to monitor the status of Asian carp populations in the Iowa Great Lakes and the Little Sioux River watershed.
"Asian carp continue to adapt and spread in their new environment which poses significant challenges to managing our aquatic systems in the future not only in Iowa, but throughout the Midwest," Larscheid said. "More research will also lead to a better understanding of their life history and impacts on our natural lakes."