Council recommends $12 million to fight invasive carp

People stand in shallow water with fishing nets
A Minnesota DNR team catches invasive carp near Trempealeau, Wisc. in November.
Courtesy of the Minnesota DNR 2023

A proposal to install a barrier to prevent invasive carp from moving up the Mississippi River got a surprise boost this week.

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council makes recommendations on how to spend money from a dedicated sales tax.

After a February budget forecast showed a surplus in the fund, the council voted to allocate $12 million to a deterrent at Lock and Dam No. 5 in the Mississippi River north of Winona, bypassing its usual review process.

State lawmakers still need to approve the funding for the project, which would involve the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Details about the project, including what type of barrier would be installed and who would maintain it, haven’t been worked out. Other states are testing acoustic deterrent systems that use sound and bubble curtains to deter invasive carp from swimming upstream.

Invasive carp have been steadily advancing up the Mississippi River since their accidental release in the 1970s. They are voracious eaters and outcompete native fish, leading to a decline in biodiversity and water quality in rivers where they’re established.

Individual invasive carp have been caught as far upstream as the Twin Cities metro. Late last year, the DNR made the largest catch of invasive carp to date, removing 408 of the fish from the river near Trempealeau, Wis.

Environmental advocates had hoped the Legislature would fund the barrier last year, when the state had a large budget surplus. However, DNR officials said more work was needed to determine whether a deterrent is the best solution.

If state lawmakers approve the Lessard-Sams funding, it would be available July 1 for state and federal agencies to start work on the project, said Colleen O’Connor Toberman, land use and planning director with the nonprofit Friends of the Mississippi River, which has advocated for the project.

“It gives me a lot of optimism that we’ll be able to get a system in place before carp populations here reach a point of spawning and a point of no return,” Toberman said.

A barrier would be one part of the state’s efforts to manage invasive carp, said David Hartwell, chair of the Outdoor Heritage Council. He noted that opinions differ on how well such barriers can keep out invasive carp.

“This is a strategy. It’s not known exactly how effective it is,” Hartwell said. “But there is no other strategy other than to let the carp come.”