PROVO — Fourth-generation fisherman Bill Loy Jr. and his crew have the daunting task of removing millions of unwanted carp from Utah Lake.
“I think we are starting to get a little bit of control," Loy said. "I mean, it’s a long way from done, but people are noticing a difference in the lake and the quality of the water."
Every day, thousands of carp are removed from the lake in the effort to reduce the carp population as part of the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program.
Over the past three years, 2.5 million carp have been removed from the lake, but another 3.5 million need to go before biologists believe the lake can return to its natural state, allowing native fish to thrive and aquatic plants to blossom.
"They have a major effect on everything in the lake, and they dominate the lake pretty much to the detriment of everything but carp,” Chris Keleher, with the Utah Department of Natural Resources Recovery Program.
Carp was introduced in the lake in the late 1800s and is being blamed for destroying the habitat of the June sucker, which is only found in Utah Lake.
A state report in 1979 showed June sucker numbers were seriously in decline, and by 1986 the June sucker made the endangered species list.
Federal and state dollars are paying for initiatives to increase the numbers of June sucker and get it off the endangered list. Ridding the lake of 40 million pounds of carp to bring back the submerged aquatic vegetation is part of that process and a top priority.
The amount of work Loy's fishermen have to do is compounded by the fact that the estimated 40 million pounds of carp in the lake is just a count of the adult fish and does not include the young that will grow up before the eradication initiative is finished.
The goal for biologists is removing 75 percent of the carp — 6 million fish in all.
“With a concerted effort, we believe we can achieve that target in the next three years, as long as we get the funding to get the work done,” Keleher said.
The Utah Lake Commission is asking the Legislature for more than $2 million this year, $1.9 million next year and $1.8 million in 2016 to help with the efforts. From the investment, commission believes it will bring $94 million to the local economy over the next 20 years through improved recreation and fishing.
If they meet their goal, Utah Lake officials say it could be a very different place by 2017.
“As we remove carp, the energy that is consumed by those carp will be available to the more desirable fish species and they will become more numerous,” said Reed Price, executive director of the Utah Lake Commission.
After the carp are hauled away, some are fed to mink, though most are composted into fertilizer.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc