CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The fish that took over the Midwest are knocking at West Virginia's door.
Asian carp, which have come to dominate entire watersheds in the Mississippi River drainage, have been found in the Greenup Pool of the Ohio River, which extends from Greenup, Ky., upstream to Apple Grove, W.Va.
"We have positively identified bighead carp in the waters downstream from the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam," said Chris O'Bara, head of fisheries research for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. "We might not have a reproducing population of them, but we have them."
Bighead carp and their close relatives, silver carp, were brought to the United States from China in the 1970s by catfish farmers, who hoped the plankton-gobbling fish would reduce pollution in their ponds. Some of the imports escaped into the Mississippi watershed, where they eventually became established and began to reproduce.
In some Mississippi tributaries, Asian carp have become the dominant species, out-competing native fishes and affecting water quality. Silver carp routinely attain weights of 20 pounds or more, and bighead carp routinely reach 40 pounds. Under the right conditions, both species can grow to more than 100 pounds.
Silver carp are particularly bothersome because they tend to leap from the water when startled. Fishermen and recreational boaters have suffered concussions, broken bones and back injuries from collisions with airborne silvers.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials consider both Asian carp species to be invasive, and the feds are working with state game and fish agencies to try to control the invaders' spread.
O'Bara is part of a team of state officials trying to keep the upper Ohio River and its tributaries from getting overrun.
"We decided, as states within the Ohio watershed, to collaborate and work together on this," he said. "We have members on the team from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. We're trying to figure out how to deal with the fishery and public-safety issues Asian carp create."
Sharp-eyed boaters and anglers might already have noticed the Asian carp posters that DNR workers have posted at several Ohio River boat ramps.