Sterile carp will be released in Lake June-In-Winter in hopes they will, in turn, satisfy their voracious appetites by munching on Illinois pondweed, a native plant that has bloomed around the big lake.
Some lakeside property owners, referred to as “stakeholders” by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, have lobbied since September for FWC to use carp in the water weed battle. Efforts have included emails, telephone calls as well as meetings with FWC biologist Kelle Sullivan; and lobbying state and federal lawmakers.
A series of emails Saturday, Oct. 5 brought to light several issues in the Illinois pondweed discussion. Mike Whitaker wrote to Sullivan that he was tired of waiting. He would fence the water around his dock and stock it with carp, he wrote “I’m going to put carp around my dock and fence it off like a bunch of cows...,” he wrote.
In that same email, Whitaker said the state put Illinois pondweed in the lake, implying the current bloom is FWC’s fault. He called it a plant restoration project “gone bad.”
Sullivan confirmed in her reply that FWC had, indeed, planted Illinois pondweed in Lake June. She said at a Thursday meeting of the Lake Placid Noon Rotary Club that 200 pondweed plants were put in the water near Lake June Scrub Park sometime in 2008 following a hydrilla treatment in 2008 killed “almost all the healthy, vital vegetation in that lake.” That initial planting failed, she said, and more of the pondweed was introduced.
The biologist said in her email to stakeholders: “If the revegetation FWC attempted was a project gone bad, it was because the plantings failed, not because we tried.”
“Regardless,” the wrote, “the Illinois pondweed is native to Florida, naturally occurring in Lake June, and a highly beneficial aquatic plant or water quality, fish and wildlife.”
Sullivan said at the Rotary meeting that much more study would be needed before the release of sterile carp would be considered. That changed just a day later when Sullivan emailed stakeholders that sterile carp would be part of an integrated management approach for Lake June “to address the continued management of Illinois pondweed and other aquatic plants.”
This integrated approach consists of the continued use of aquatic herbicides, introduction of sterile triploid grass carp, and continued public engagement. “These elements will be incorporated into the Commission’s Invasive Plant Management annual work plan for Lake June,” Sullivan wrote.
The integrated management approach will focus on continued use of aquatic herbicides that allow for effective and targeted maintenance control of Illinois pondweed at public boat ramps, canals and creeks that are navigable connections to other water bodies, and open water areas identified as public access, recreation and navigational areas. Maintenance control of these public areas will prevent aquatic plants from recovering to dense, problematic levels.
The good news for stakeholders comes with a few cautions, Sullivan said.
The Commission has not previously used grass carp as a control method specifically for pondweed, she said. Thus, there are a number of issues that must first be addressed to ensure the fish are utilized as effectively as possible:
• Pondweed is not high on the carps preferred food list over other plants in the lake such as nitella which they will eat first. Like us, they eat what they like first and the rest only if they must.
• Carp are a river species and are drawn to flowing water because, despite being sterile triploids, they still want to spawn. Biologists have no control over where they go or what they do once they are released.
• Carp tend to not like to be around a lot of human activity, so areas of the lake like the Lake June Scrub State Park shoreline and open water will be more likely to hold carp than around near-shore recreational zones, docks, and shorelines where people are more active and present.
Sullivan said the planned use of sterile carp reflects FWC’s willingness to consider the wishes of stakeholders. “We are making every effort to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders in the best interest of fish, wildlife, the lake, and those who use and enjoy it,” she said.
Sullivan said the cooperation of groups, agencies and individuals – both public and private – has proven successful in the part, using Lake Istokpoga and its Lake Istokpoga Management Committee as an example.
She said a public meeting “or other venue for public input” is being planned for the near future. The date and time will be announced once they have been scheduled.