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1,800 carp coming

LAKE WYLIE -- Almost 2,000 sterile Asian grass carp could be swimming, and more importantly devouring, in Lake Wylie by next week.

For the second year, a planned spring stocking of the grass carp to combat the spread of hydrilla will take place in North Carolina waters of the lake. Hydrilla is a non-native, fast spreading water weed estimated to cover 90 acres in Lake Wylie, blamed in water bodies where it grows for everything from closing down boat ramps to breeding mosquitoes and rendering coves unnavigable.

No date has been set for the carp stocking, said Ken Manuel, invasive species expert with Duke Energy's Aquatic Weed Program. One could be set soon, he said.

"The state has just opened the bids," Manual said last week. "We will be shooting for a delivery of the week of May 11."

Howard "Biff" Virkler, who heads the hydrilla effort with the Lake Wylie Marine Commission, hopes to have a fish for every nine acres of lake. He also plans to find ways of educating the public, particularly boaters, on the dangers of letting hydrilla spread.

"It'll choke up a place where you can't use it," Virkler said.

Brochures will be distributed and signs posted for boaters, and anglers will be shown pictures of the carp, which are illegal to catch and keep. The vegetarian fish can eat their body weight in hydrilla in a day, and can grow to three feet long.

Of the 1,800 fish coming to Lake Wylie, half will go on the west end of the N.C. 274 bridge and the other half will go into Paw Creek. Last year, all 500 fish were stocked in one location, and a nearby chemical spill following the stocking killed off many of them.

Because many of the fish did not survive, hydrilla beds in Lake Wylie spread from 10 acres last spring to 90 now. Alligatorweed, another invasive water weed, can be found on 10-12 acres. Yet even without the chemical spill, restocking efforts would be needed.

"Annually approximately 25 percent of the fish will be lost to natural causes, disease, and predation requiring supplemental stocking yearly," Manuel said.

The Lake Wylie stocking will cost $9,000 from North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Duke and the marine commission. Annually, the cost of battling hydrilla in North Carolina tops $1 million.