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The Foreign Invasion

Tom Lounsbury

Wed, 31 May 2017 10:58:08 EDT


click on the picture to enlarge


The Foreign Invasion   

By Tom Lounsbury

Ever since the first ship crossed the Atlantic from Europe to North America (known as the New World), some nasty things came along as well. One was the rat, and it is a prolific and adaptable rodent that is here to stay. No doubt rats have been transported to the New World ever since Columbus first showed up, but loads of grain shipped over for the horses used by Hessian troops that fought for the British during the Revolutionary War brought a bumper crop of rats and spread them around weíll never recover from.
Then there is the feature of progress as this country grew. The Welland Canal was constructed from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie to allow shipping to get past the Niagara Falls, and was completed in 1829. A great thing for progress, but also a great thing for some ocean born invasive species such as the sea lamprey and a small harmless looking fish called the alewife.
It was in the early 1900ís that the lamprey began getting some notice, and in the Great Lakes filled with an abundance of lake trout, the parasitic lamprey had a target rich environment. The harmless looking alewife, a plankton eater, began to feed on not only plankton, but also on the fry (newly hatched fish) of not only the lake trout, but walleye, perch, bass, and even smaller species such as emerald shiners. The fry are the same size as plankton and the prolific alewife isnít too picky as long as it gets its fill.
The end result was a plus for the invasive lamprey and alewife, and a distinct negative for the native species, almost to the complete obliteration of some by the mid-20th Century. The alewife became so abundant, that die-offs littered our beaches with a stinking, rotting, oily mess during the 1960ís and into the 1970ís many of you may still remember.
Another invasive that might surprise some folks is the smelt. The smelt was planted in Michiganís Crystal Lake in 1912, and found its way to the Great Lakes where it settled right in and proliferated to great abundance. Although it didnít have the same adverse effect as the alewife on the native species fry, it is certainly no angel either. I must admit however, I did thoroughly enjoy spring dipping for the little buggers when they were abundant in some streams, and they sure are great to eat.
To control the alewife overpopulation, it was decided to bring in another non-native species, the salmon, to take care of matters. With an abundance of alewives (and smelt) in the Great Lakes, the salmon flourished, creating a sport fishery we all enjoyed. With the introduction of the salmon, in no time at all it seemed, our beaches cleared up, and it was a ďnaturalĒ process that worked. Of course it worked good enough, that as the alewife numbers dropped, so did salmon numbers (especially in Lake Huron). Apparently the salmon is very dependant on the alewife.
However, with the demise of abundant alewife numbers (the invasive alewife in my opinion, while a blessing for the salmon fishery, was truly a curse for many of our native fish), our native species such as lake trout, walleye, perch and bass began to resume very noticeably successful natural reproduction. One noticeable specie right away here was the definite abundance of emerald shiners along the Thumbís coastline. This is no doubt because of fewer alewife numbers, and the emerald shiner is a great, natural (native) food base for many of our native fish species.
Iíll never forget when the quagga and zebra mussels suddenly made their appearance in the Great Lakes, thanks to ballast water brought in by freighters coming in from the ocean. The zebra mussel covers shallower waters, but the quagga goes deep. The fact is, this pair eats plankton from top to bottom in the Great Lakes, and like most invasive species, they are extremely prolific in their new environment.
I can remember while trolling, watching a cannonball disappear quickly in plankton-rich Saginaw Bay, and not long after hearing about the quagga and zebra mussels being about, then being able to actually see the cannonball nearly reach the bottom in crystal clear (minus plankton) waters.
Also brought in by ballast water about the same time was the round goby, and of course it proliferated. While it devours eggs of native species, it has proven to be a good food source for bass, perch, walleye, pike and lake trout. If you ever land a lake trout with a roughed up snout, it is because it was most likely rooting around the bottom and feeding on the plentiful round goby. While the salmon seems dependent on the alewife and a set atmosphere, the more adaptable lake trout isnít as picky, and is certainly flourishing these days.
Another nasty item brought obviously in by ballast water to the Great Lakes is the virus, VHS (Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia) that was first confirmed in 2006, and can now affect many native fish species. Much has been learned since that time, such as VHS goes dormant when water temperatures reach 59 degrees, but it still can rear its ugly head in sporadic outbreaks on various fish species.
One noticeable and very prolific invasive is the common carp, sometimes known as German carp (even though it originated in Central Asia) because it came from fish farms in Germany. Considered a distinct easy to raise and large fish as a food source, it was brought to this country for that purpose in the latter part of the 19th Century. Politicians drumming up support and traveling by train even brought milk cans filled with young carp to give away to possible voters. Some were put in ponds, and some were simply put into rivers and streams. Needless to say the carp took a strong and permanent foothold all across our country. An example is Saginaw Bay, and I must admit I do enjoy pursuing common carp with hook and line as well as bowfishing for them.
In fact the Great Lakes Bowfishing Championship (GLBC) held annually each spring in Saginaw Bay is the largest of its kind in the world. Competitors come from all over including other countries for this very unique contest (I can remember meeting a bowfishing team from New Zealand). This year the GLBC will be held May 20 - 21, 2017. For more information, go to or call (248) 583-4863.
If you are interested in giving bowfishing a whirl but have never tried it or donít have the equipment, I highly recommend Matt Anthony of Ubly (989-912-2332) who has a charter boat designed specifically for bowfishing, and he provides the equipment. His boat is a shallow draft ďGo-DevilĒ and motor, and offers a shooting platform. Matt guides throughout the summer and does both night and day charters. Iím looking forward to doing the night version, as I have never tried it before.
Then there is the ďAsianĒ carp (two species in the form of the silver and the big head) that was introduced to catfish farming ponds in Arkansas to control algae, of course in a natural manner. Unfortunately for this country, floods turned it loose in the Mississippi River and its associated watershed, and the Asian carp has been working its way north ever since. With a voracious appetite which outcompetes native species hands down it possesses a fast growth rate and can obtain a length of 4 feet, and a weight of 100 pounds. The props from outboards seem to agitate this fish into leaping out of the water, which can be interesting to unsuspecting boaters, and it has injured some folks. I can picture the best protective apparel for running through a school of Asian carp on a jet ski would resemble that of a hockey goalie. Of course maintaining your seat after catching a large fish in the kisser would be a bit difficult.
I knew without question the extremely prolific Asian carp were heading towards the Great Lakes, as it was just a matter of time. It doesnít take a rocket scientist to figure that out. And there is that Ship Canal (with a system of locks) near Chicago which allows access to the Great Lakes. On a personal level, progress aside Iíve never really been comfortable with that canal, thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers. It kind of reminds me of a drain plug to our Great Lakes, but thatís me, and Iím certainly no expert on such matters. It also allows an easy access for the Asian carp to enter the Great Lakes and to do what they do, such as proliferate and destroy the natural habitat that is extremely vital to native fish species, not to mention being a hazard to boaters. DNA evidence of Asian carp, as I understand it, has already been found in Lake Michigan.
The only thing holding the Asian carp back from entering the Great Lakes (hopefully anyway) is an electrical barrier near Chicago.
Let us truly hope there is never a power outage in this regard, or some other unexpected gap in the barrier, because the Great lakes will be in for some serious trouble with this particular foreign invader if it is ever allowed unobstructed entry.
Progress does have a downside when you review the history of the ďforeign invasionĒ. Sadly enough, it seems to be an ongoing matter.

click on the picture to enlarge


(L - R) Colleen Easterbrook, Bob Easterbrook Sr and Bob Easterbrook Jr
keep the GLBC ticking, which has been an annual spring event in the Thumb
since 1984. The contest also removes tons of invasive fish species,
primarily the common carp.

click on the picture to enlarge


Two invasive fish species to the Great Lakes, the goldfish (left) and the
common carp (right). Both of these fish were taken during a Great Lakes
Bowfishing Championship.



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