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Fisheries Management

Historical data on file with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) indicate concerns with the Hess Lake fishery go back many years. In 1969, the MDNR considered whole-lake fish kill but abandoned the effort due to opposition from lake residents. More recently, many lake residents have expressed concern about a declining fishery, a primary issue being the prevalence of common carp (Cyprinus carpio) in Hess Lake.

An overabundance of carp can be detrimental to a healthy fishery and contribute to degraded water quality conditions. Feeding activity by carp can increase turbidity, reduce macrophyte (rooted aquatic plant) cover and cause lakes to shift from relatively clear to turbid conditions. Common carp appear to be a major factor driving and sustaining degraded water quality conditions in Hess Lake. In a fishery study of Hess Lake conducted in 2020, it was noted:

"This fish community is suboptimal and a reflection of the current degraded water quality conditions in the lake…There are three minnows in the lake, two are great prey fish (bluntnose minnows and golden shiners) while the third is the curse of many lakes, the common carp.  Common carp appear to be common based on our catches and reports from lake residents. They are well known for rooting up sediments, consuming fish eggs, and creating turbid conditions.  They need to be controlled by any means possible…

 

The shallow nature of the lake and high turbidity has resulted in a dearth of macrophytes, sediment buildup in many areas nearshore, and habitat favored by the invasive fish species, common carp, which appear to be abundant.  Loss of aquatic plants is a serious problem, since macrophytes are keystone habitats in a lake for fishes; they provide aquatic insects for food, spawning habitat, and probably most importantly, nursery and shelter for smaller fishes.  It also anchors the sediment and prevents wind-generated currents from re-suspending bottom sediments. Macrophytes also are important since nutrients in a lake can be tied up in algae or macrophytes, and it is critical that macrophytes predominate and prevent blue-green algae from taking over and shading the plants and increasing turbidity, which appears to now be the case in Hess Lake. Increased turbidity can thwart visual predators from catching prey favoring predators such as black crappies and channel catfish, which can feed in the dark. Loss of macrophytes results in loss of shelter for prey fish, and re-suspended sediments can put more nutrients into the water column, which can fuel algal and macrophyte growth…"

Photo credit: Freshwater Physicians, Inc. 2022

In a follow-up evaluation of the carp in Hess Lake conducted in 2022, the carp population was estimated at 30,000, a level well-above the threshold at which carp-induced water quality problems occur. As part of this evaluation, three box nets were placed in the lake and baited with corn to attract carp. The nets were tripped remotely and a total of 396 carp were removed from the lake using this method.  Based on this initial evaluation, an integrated carp management approach was recommended to reduce the carp population in Hess Lake over the long term. Various potential approaches were identified including additional (and more aggressive) baiting of box nets, trapping of carp during spawning migrations, fall seining, and the installation of barriers to prevent carp reintroductions into the lake. Monitoring of carp migrations in Hess Lake is currently being considered to better understand carp recruitment and to inform future management direction.

 

Click here to view the 2020 Hess Lake fishery study.

 

Click here to view the 2022 Hess Lake carp population study.

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