TPWD makes startling announcement on invasive carp discovery

Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

In a disturbing announcement that could potentially have disastrous implications for Lake Texoma, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has confirmed the discovery of invasive silver carp to the east of Denison Dam.

In an agency news release, TPWD indicated that it received a report in late June that an invasive silver carp had been spotted in Choctaw Creek, a tributary of the Red River approximately 15 miles downstream from Lake Texoma.

The unfortunate discovery came after bow angler Stephen Banaszak reported it to the agency and provided two specimens to TPWD and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), who soon confirmed that the fish were indeed silver carp.

“These are the first reports of silver carp from Texas waters, although they have previously been found in other areas of the Red River including just downstream from Lake Texoma in Oklahoma waters in 2019,” said Dan Bennett, the TPWD fisheries management biologist over the Denison District. “Invasive carp pose a significant risk to Lake Texoma’s ecosystem and boaters and there is adequate flow and upstream river area for them to become established and reproduce in the lake if introduced.”

Previously, bighead carp, another closely related invasive species, has been documented in the Red River and tributaries downstream of Lake Texoma. In addition, TPWD says that bighead carp have been documented in the Sulphur River downstream of Lake Wright Patman and Big Cypress Bayou downstream of Lake O’ the Pines.

“These invasive carp are not native to the U.S. but have been introduced and become established and problematic in numerous states, primarily in the Mississippi River Basin,” said Monica McGarrity, TPWD Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species.

“Both of these invasive carp species are filter feeders and have the potential to cause significant changes in native fish populations by competing with other filter feeding fish species such as shad and buffalo, and even larval sportfish that also rely on plankton as a food source in their first couple of months,” she added.

“Silver carp can also pose a risk to humans, as they can jump up to 10 feet out of the water when startled by the sounds of watercraft, often jumping into boats, sometimes injuring boaters. When present in large numbers, jumping silver carp can be a significant hazard.”

I probably don’t need to tell you that such an occurrence would be potentially disastrous at Lake Texoma, one of the most heavily visited and popular reservoirs in Texas and Oklahoma.

What can you do? For starters, it is important to know that silver and bighead carp are similar in appearance to shad, but can be identified by their low-set eyes according to biologists.

Silver and bighead carp are also similar in appearance to each other, but silver carp have silver, rather than gray, bodies and a ‘keel’ or ridge that runs the length of the belly from the anal fin all the way to the throat, whereas the keel on bighead carp stops at the pelvic fin.

TPWD says both species can grow quite large, with silver carp reaching approximately 3 feet in length and nearly 60 pounds and bighead carp reaching up to 4 and a half feet in length and nearly 90 pounds.

Both species are easily confused with shad or even minnows when small. To prevent the spread of these invasive species, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission passed regulations making it illegal to transport any live nongame fish from these water bodies.

Anglers are urged to follow these rules to prevent introducing these species to other water bodies when using them as bait.

TPWD notes that it is in collaboration right now with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and USFWS, and is also currently working with researchers at Texas Tech University and Auburn University to conduct research on invasive carp.

The news release notes that the project will assess the population status and distribution of bighead carp and silver carp across the Red River Basin, including the Red River downstream of Lake Texoma and the Sulphur River, a major Red River tributary, downstream of Lake Wright Patman.

The project will also collect baseline data on native fish populations that may be negatively impacted by the invasive carp.

Anyone who catches either silver or bighead carp in Texas waters is asked to report the sighting with location information and photos to AquaticInvasives@tpwd.texas.gov. Silver and bighead carp are prohibited exotic species in Texas and must be killed upon possession by beheading, gutting, gill-cutting or other means or placed on ice. Neither species can be possessed live.

For more information on silver and bighead carp, visit the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database webpages at https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=549 (silver carp) and https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=551 (bighead carp)