New change aims to reduce carp, restore health to Lake Austin

Asian carp. (KXAN File Photo)
Asian carp. (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The effort to remove an invasive plant from Lake Austin years ago, created an entirely new problem for the city.

Texas Parks and Wildlife granted the city of Austin permission to put grass carp into the lake, a sterile fish they believed would combat the record growth of the invasive hydrilla plant. Wildlife officials say hydrilla grows very quickly and can out-compete native plants. They say it can damage the lake’s primary purposes, like flood control, water supply and hydropower generation.

While the carp did it’s job removing the hydrilla, it also decimated the underwater vegetation. A 2014 study revealed there was no underwater plant life in the lake. A year later, not much had changed, hurting the lake’s ecosystem.

“The fishing has gone from really good to really bad,” said Don Gordon, a fishing guide and sponsored tournament fisherman. “I saw bass that were so stressed and skinny, I’ve never seen that in this lake.

Gordon rarely fishes on Lake Austin these days. He says what was once a trophy fishery is now a lake fisherman avoid.

“You could come out here pretty much any day and chances are if you get a bite it could be a double-digit fish, there were lots and lots of double-digit fish, which is over 10 pounds. The fish were beautiful, healthy.”

Gordon says double-digit bass are much harder to come across these days in Lake Austin
Gordon says double-digit bass are much harder to come across these days in Lake Austin

According to stocking records, 6,000 carp entered Lake Austin in December 2011. In 2012, the city put in more than 17,000 more carp. Then, 9,000 more of the fish went into the lake in May 2013.

Despite the exploding population, the carp have been protected, up until now.

Starting this month, Texas Parks and Wildlife is allowing anglers to catch carp and hopefully lower the population. As the department works to improve native vegetation, they hope reducing numbers through angler harvest will help in the effort. Any angler who catches a grass carp in Lake Austin may now legally retain the fish, provided it has been gutted or has had the head removed. There is no length limit or bag limit for this species.

Gordon believes this is a step in the right direction, but worries it will still be 10 to 15 years until the lake recovers.

Texas Parks and Wildlife says if hydrilla returns, the city can reapply for a stocking permit at a future date.

 

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