Call for more carp draws mixed reviews

Sterile grass carp are stocked in Lake Moultrie as an ongoing management technique to control hydrilla.

It’s time again to add carp in Lake Murray to keep hydrilla and other weeds in check, according to a study commissioned by SCE&G.

But not everyone agrees.

The call for more finned weed eaters comes as unwanted greenery is starting to proliferate, according to the study.

Increases in weeds other than hydrilla are “a first sign” that more carp are necessary, the study by aquatic weed expert Steve de Kozlowski says.

SCE&G manages the lake. But the state Department of Natural Resources, which manages the wildlife in and around the lake, isn’t ready to put more weed-eating fish in the water.

“We haven’t seen anything yet that makes us think we’re going to have an issue,” said Chris Page, manager of the agency’s aquatic weed control team.

Using carp is the main strategy for weed control at the 47,500-acre Midlands playground.

Hydrilla, a non-native weed, was discovered in the lake in 1993. Some experts say fishermen apparently brought it in without recognizing the problems it would create. Within five years, there was a jungle under water in some areas as plant vines started to choke parts of the lake, entangling boats.

Herbicides and drawdowns were used at first to keep it in check. But concern over spraying chemicals in a lake that supplies drinking water and frequent transformation of shallow coves into mud flats led to the end of both.

State officials put in 64,500 carp in the lake in 2003, squirting the fish from a tanker truck through a special hose.

The reinforcement suggested right now is much smaller. The study recommends 1,100 carp be added by next year. Putting in that many is estimated to cost around $8,000.

Adding carp in those amounts is “maintenance stocking,” Page said.

About 4,800 of the original group remain, the study estimates. The fish are sterile, so as they die out, their numbers simply drop.

De Kozlowski looked at weed conditions in the lake for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., which oversees operation of the lake, built 83 years ago for hydropower but now a major recreation center. State natural resources officials handle weed control for the lake.

Not everyone would be happy with the idea of adding more carp.

But fishermen seem resigned to the need for more, despite their protests that the fish munch too much on vegetation that feeds game fish.

The average weight of game fish caught is declining with less greenery under water and are harder to find as the fish search more widely for food, they said.

“People say fishing is more difficult and blame it on the lack of vegetation,” said Doug Miller, a leader of the South Carolina chapter of the Bass Federation. “It’s so inconsistent.”

The carp have succeeded in controlling the weeds too well, veteran fisherman Howard Stephens of St. Andrews said.

“I wish there was a little more grass in the lake,” he said.

But state biologist Hal Beard says less grass is a sign the lake is attracting more anglers, not that the carp are eating too much of it.

Leaders of shoreline community groups say carp keep the lake in good shape for all types of recreation.

“If it’s time to add more, then we need to do it,” said Joy Downs of Ballentine, executive director of the Lake Murray Association.