Video: Agencies unite to combat invasive species in Lake Erie

In total, staff from 10 federal, state and provincial agencies jumped at the chance to gather in early September in Monroe, Mich., to conduct the Michigan/Ohio Lake Erie Field Exercise, a three-day effort designed to test the capability to respond to the threat of invasive bighead and silver carp and other aquatic invasive species, while providing the chance to learn more about these species and how they behave.

According to Nick Popoff, manager of the Michigan DNR’s Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Unit, it was no easy task uniting that many agencies. But with previous experience gained by holding a similar exercise on the St. Joseph River last year, the DNR’s Fisheries Division was up for the challenge.

Minnesota DNR fisheries biologist Nick Frohnauer (left) holds a
freshwater drum caught in a gill net deployed on Lake Erie, while
Michigan DNR fisheries biologist Chuck Payment (right)
brings in the net. (DNR photos)
“That previous exercise allowed us to develop a command structure for use during actual response activities and training drills like this one on Lake Erie,” said Popoff, who serves as the event’s logistics officer. “Implementing and testing a unified command system was a big priority for us to accomplish with this exercise.”

“With so many employees from various agencies on the ground during the Lake Erie training, the Incident Command Structure brought a military-type precision to our work, which led to an efficient and successful training opportunity.”

Another priority for the Michigan and Ohio DNRs was complying with the Mutual Aid Agreement developed by the Great Lakes governors and premiers this past spring to combat invasive species, including Asian carp.

Signed in April 2014 by members of the Council of Great Lakes Governors and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the Mutual Aid Agreement directs agencies in those jurisdictions to share expertise and staff if invasive species posed a serious threat to a particular region.

Minnesota DNR fisheries biologist Nick Frohnauer brings in a
gill net, deployed on Lake Erie in an attempt to capture grass
carp during a multi-agency invasive species field exercise.
Just a few short months later, representatives from the Michigan and Ohio DNRs started coordinating the Lake Erie Field Exercise, with the focus being on Asian carp – particularly grass carp.

Grass carp were first imported from Asia in 1963 as a biological control tool for aquatic vegetation; since 1984, the species has been reported in Lake Erie by commercial fishers. By way of the field exercise, the Michigan and Ohio DNRs hoped to increase scientific knowledge about grass carp abundance, demographics and distribution in western Lake Erie.

“It’s important to note that although grass carp are considered Asian carp, they are not at the same level of concern as bighead carp and silver carp. Currently there are no known bighead or silver carp populations in Michigan’s waters of the Great Lakes,” said Popoff. “But just the same, grass carp are a prohibited species in both Michigan and Ohio and the exercise allowed us to see what their populations really look like in the waters of Lake Erie.”

Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 9, boat crews from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota DNRs; New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Geological Survey; Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources; and Fisheries & Oceans Canada deployed electroshocking, gillnetting and commercial seining to catch as many grass carp as possible.

Michigan DNR fisheries staff perform minor
surgery on a captured grass carp to implant a
tracking device. Use of tracking devices tells
 fisheries biologists more about fish movement
and spawning patterns.
All grass carp caught would be implanted with transmitters for a behavior study that would monitor their movements over time to see where they congregate and/or spawn.carp surgery.

Although implementation of the exercise was textbook, the outcome did not entirely meet agency expectations.

“Unfortunately, only two grass carp were caught during the three-day effort and one died following the surgery required to implant the transmitters while the other never even made it to the operating table,” Popoff said.

According to Cleyo Harris, acting Fisheries Biologist out of Waterford and the co-lead on the grass carp behavior research project, work will continue post-exercise in an effort to collect enough grass carp to monitor their movements.

“Together with Ohio DNR we will work with Lake Erie’s commercial fishers to tag any grass carp found,” he said. “Hopefully as we get into the fall and the water temperatures cool off we will be able to find more fish and continue on with our plans.”

Popoff is quick to point out it’s not necessarily a problem the exercise didn’t capture an abundance of grass carp.

“Although we would have liked to catch more grass carp for the purposes of the transmitter study, it’s slightly comforting that with more than 60 folks out on the water in 17 boats we only caught two fish,” he explains. “That might tell us that grass carp aren’t nearly as prevalent as we might have thought.”

Staff from 10 federal, state and provincial agencies used a combination of
electroshocking boats, gill nets and commercial seines to capture fish
during the Lake Erie Field Exercise. 
Despite the lack of grass carp, the field exercise provided copious amounts of information about working together with a variety of agencies to reach a common goal, and allowed staff to test mechanical response capabilities in vast stretched of public waters, Popoff said.

Both the Michigan and Ohio DNRs remain focused on what they identify as a critical activity: preparing for a potential Asian carp invasion.

“We learned so many things from this exercise,” said Popoff. “We hit all of our objectives and experienced great coordination among the agencies involved. We couldn’t have asked for a smoother process.”

Conducting a field response exercise in Lake Erie waters was a requirement of the 2014 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Grant. The GLRI is awarded to the states by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Environmental Protection Agency.

To learn more about the Lake Erie Field Exercise, watch a video interview with Popoff, found on the DNR’s YouTube channel at

For more information about Asian carp, visit