I’ve fished a lot of rivers, lakes and reservoirs across North Dakota. From Lake Sakakawea, the Missouri River and Oahe to the smaller local ponds and sloughs.
It’s been a bad summer for a couple of my favorites. I’ve never kept a fishing diary, but I can say without a doubt I’ve lost many minnows, spoons and spinners on the James River and Lake Ashtabula while I lived in LaMoure and Valley City while growing up.
But this summer these waterways have made headlines for the wrong reasons. Lake Ashtabula became the first water in North Dakota outside of the Red River where zebra mussels were documented. And then the James River near LaMoure produced the first bighead carp, less than 10 years after the first silver carp was discovered in the James.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department collected and verified the bighead carp during silver carp monitoring efforts in late June. Bighead carp, an exotic species, are established in the lower Missouri River and in the James River in South Dakota.
"High water levels in the James River this year have facilitated their movements upstream, providing an opportunity for them to enter the state from the South Dakota portions. … Once established in a large river system they are virtually impossible to eliminate," Jessica Howell, Game and Fish aquatic nuisance species coordinator, said.
Like the closely related silver carp that showed up in 2011, bighead carp can out-compete native and other game fish in large river systems. They eat phytoplankton, a food item used by zooplankton, which in turn are eaten by small game fish. They concentrate below dams and in confluence areas and can drive out desirable fish.
In mid-June, an angler turned in a suspected zebra mussel discovered in Lake Ashtabula. Howell confirmed it as an adult zebra mussel, and subsequent inspections found other zebra mussels of various ages.
At 5,200 acres, Lake Ashtabula is an impoundment on the Sheyenne River north of Valley City, and it offers a variety of outdoor activities such as boating, swimming, fishing, camping and skiing. Howell said it’s unknown how the mussels were introduced into Lake Ashtabula.
"This situation shows how important it is for boaters, anglers, swimmers and skiers to be aware of aquatic nuisance species and to take precautions to prevent their spread," Howell said. "Everyone who uses this lake now plays a key role in stemming the spread of these mussels to uninfested waters."
Because of this new finding, the Game and Fish Department has classified Lake Ashtabula, and the Sheyenne River downstream all the way to the Red River, as Class I ANS infested water, which prohibits the movement of water away from the lake and river, including water for transferring bait.
Here’s a reminder for everyone to follow the rules designed to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species so these species don’t expand any farther.