LAKE WYLIE--It took more than a year to get the fish to the lake, and all of a minute to dump them in.
"Get ready," said Bennie Jackson with Fish Transport Service Inc. out of Lonoke, AR. "It happens pretty fast."
Between stops on Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman Wednesday, Jackson poured 500 sterile Asian grass carp into Lake Wylie to combat a problem some experts say threatens the health and public use of the lake--hydrilla.
A non-native, invasive plant often used locally in aquariums, hydrilla can grow up to a foot in length each day and can create a mass of vegetation so severe, water uses from recreation and navigation to supplies of drinking water can be impacted. The plant will grow from the shoreline of Lake Wylie to about 20 feet deep.
"That means 25 to 30 percent of the surface area of the lake could potentially be infested with this plant," said Charlie Manuel, head of the Duke Energy Aquatic Weed Program.
Manuel, along with Lake Wylie Marine Commissioner Charles "Bo" Ibach, began working to solve the hydrilla problem when several acres of the plant sprouted near the N.C. 74 bridge on the northern tip of Lake Wylie. Manuel and Ibach wanted to introduce sterile Asian grass carp, a feeder fish used to control hydrilla beds, last summer but were told by fish experts that fish survive the transition best during the spring. So, they waited.
While unfortunate for many users of the lake last year, the drought actually helped to slow the spread of hydrilla until the fish arrived Wednesday. Yet even hydrilla beds that went without water for seven months did not die. Once the water returned, they regrew and now sprouts reach six to eight inches long.
"The tuber is what will lay dormant in the soil for up to 10 years," Manuel said. "It could sprout at any time."
Herbicides and feeding carp can help control hydrilla, but there is no way to completely eradicate the plant. Ibach hopes that the carp drop Wednesday at Dale's Landing in Gaston County will have an impact. Dale's Landing, within eyesight of the N.C. 74 bridge, is located within walking distance of most of the infestation currently estimated at about 20 acres.
"This is the best place to put them in," Ibach said.
The water near Dale's Landing also is shallow and calm, which Ibach hopes will help the carp to survive and feed. As for area fishing and the danger it could pose, Ibach is waiting to see.
"Honestly, I don't know," he said. "I don't come to this part of the lake very often."
About 25 percent of the sterile fish is lost each year, making restocking efforts like the 500 fish on Mountain Island Lake and 1,200 fish on Lake Norman also delivered Wednesday necessary. State laws in North and South Carolina make catching and keeping the fish illegal, but Ibach is still concerned some anglers may not know to release them.
John Lindsey, an angler with several lines in the water at Dale's Landing Wednesday, said the area where the fish were released and where the hydrilla is growing is a popular spot.
"People from all over--Belmont, Gastonia, the far end of Charlotte--usually put their boats in here," said Lindsey, who lives about five miles from the site.
Dale Willard, owner of Dale's Landing and the nearby convenience store, said the ramp is private but that boaters of all sorts use it with permission.
"Everything," said Willard. "All kinds, jet skis, the works."
As for those boaters catching grass carp, though, Willard doubts there will be problems.
"They won't try to catch grass carp," he said. "If they catch grass carp, it's an accident."
The reason most anglers will not keep the fish has little to do with laws, Lindsey said, and more to do with personal preference.
"We don't really keep carp anyway, because people don't really like to eat them," he said.
Anglers can cause problems for hydrilla management, though, without casting the first line, Ibach said. Many anglers consider hydrilla helpful, noting that it provides cover for fish and reduces the amount of water where fish can hide.
"I like grass," Willard said. "Grass grows good in the water. It protects the fish."
Ibach believes strong ties between the fishing community and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources were the reason only 500 fish were stocked Wednesday as opposed to the 1,600 recommended and approved by the marine commission and Duke.
While the DNR did ask that only 500 fish be stocked instead of the 1,600 originally sought, the department is not trying to save hydrilla for anglers, said Chris Page, program coordinator with the department's Aquatic Nuisance Species Program.
"They work," said Page of the fish, adding that South Carolina only wants as many fish as it feels are necessary. "If it comes down to hydrilla or good water, water for people to drink, they'll take water."