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Weedeaters released

LAKE WYLIE -- Almost 2,000 sterile Asian grass carp underwent quite a journey before ever splashing into Lake Wylie. Yet it's what they do now that has area water experts much more interested.

"This is one of the best ways to keep the invasive weed under control," said John Sutherland, water projects section chief with the North Carolina Division of Water Resources. "Hydrilla can be harmful to the lake's natural environment and costly when you consider that it reduces peoples' ability to use the lake for recreational purposes."

On Friday afternoon, a total of 1,800 carp entered Lake Wylie at two drop points, Dale's Landing near Belmont and The Vineyards in Steele Creek. The fish arrived from Arkansas to devour hydrilla, a non-native plant growing on more than 80 acres of Lake Wylie.

"Hydrilla has closed off water intakes on many lakes and caused extensive damage," said Howard "Biff" Virkler, hydrilla committee chairman for the Lake Wylie Marine Commission. "Left uncontrolled hydrilla will take over a lake and ruin its pleasure and business uses."

Yet not everyone agrees so wholeheartedly that hydrilla is a nuisance, or that the carp were necessary.

"Personally I think it's funny," said Rusty White, avid angler on the lake and Pilot columnist. "It's a laughable situation. They're throwing good money away."

White is concerned that the carp, which are sterile but can grow to large sizes and are restocked annually, can just as easily eat native vegetation, endangering the current ecosystem.

"I don't know that these people are considering the long-term impact to the lake," White said. "These fish live a long time, and let's say they eat all the hydrilla. What are they going to do then? They're going to eat anything and everything in the lake. That fish is going to eat a lot of something."

Charles "Bo" Ibach, who began the hydrilla research for the Lake Wylie Commission while still a commissioner, said anglers often pose issues against stocking the carp. Most often, including a recent conversation on the issue, the anglers are misinformed, Ibach said.

"I have never heard such misinformation," he said. "You can't talk to them."

The stocking Friday was a joint effort by Duke Energy and the Lake Wylie Marine Commission, who split the bill for three times the fish that went in last year. Wanting more fish than was approved in 2008, Ibach and Duke's invasive weed specialist Ken Manual put in 600 fish. Shortly after, a chemical spill on the lake killed fish of all species, including many of the carp.

Last spring, hydrilla covered about 10 acres of Lake Wylie. Now the beds are past 80 acres. And the issue is not specific to Lake Wylie. In total, 3,950 carp spilled into five North Carolina lakes Friday, including 500 in Mountain Island Lake and 1,200 in Lake Norman. Fish only can be stocked in the spring, and originally were set to be stocked nearer the beginning of May. Rains in Arkansas and blood testing (to ensure the fish are sterile) delayed the delivery.

With the 2009 stocking now complete, White hopes the angling population can pull together politically prior to the stocking next year.

"Unfortunately the fishermen are not represented in the committees and the groups that are making these decisions," White said. "At some point somebody's got to stand up and say we need to look out for Lake Wylie as a fishery, and they're not doing it."

Opponents of hydrilla say it can cause problems impacting boaters to nuclear reactors, and that efforts to keep the "water kudzu" from spreading should be proactive.

"Hydrilla grows so dense that it can totally clog lake waters up to 20 feet deep and make that water a stagnant breeding areas for mosquitoes," Virkler said. "Hydrilla has closed off water intakes on many lakes and caused extensive damage."

Yet, White said, most of the fisheries that draw the biggest tournaments and bring in the biggest financial booms have weeds in their waters.

"Lakes with grass are very prolific fisheries," White said, adding that chambers of commerce in those areas attribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the fishing industry. "The more grass that grows the more fish are going to eat, the more they eat the bigger they get and the bigger they get the farther away people come to fish for them."

"When those people come to fish for them, they spend money," he said.

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