More Amur slated for Lake

By: Howard Roden, Conroe Courier staff

10/03/2006

LAKE CONROE – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will deposit another 13,800 hydrilla-eating fish into Lake Conroe, but the agency denied it was pressured by lakefront property owners to meet their demands.

That amount of white Amur – scheduled to be released over the next month – will more than double the current grass carp population of 13,248. It also satisfied an earlier demand by the Lake Conroe Association that the TPWD stock a total of at least 27,000 fish this year.

The LCA, a nonprofit group comprised primarily of lakefront property owners and businesses, had informed parks and wildlife officials it would abandon a cooperative relationship with the TPWD if the organization’s arbitrary number wasn’t attained.

Meanwhile, representatives from bass fishing groups had previously voiced their support for controlling hydrilla in Lake Conroe – as long as the number of fish required was validated by scientific calculations.

As it turned out Monday during a meeting at the San Jacinto River Authority headquarters, both sides got what they wanted.

In announcing that hydrilla now infested a total of 1,167 surfaces acres of Lake Conroe, TPWD Program Specialist Earl Chilton said the latest, and largest, white Amur release was based on attaining a “stocking rate” of 23.1 fish per acre. That rate represented the mean average of the six stocking rates at Lake Austin, where the TPWD used the fish to successfully combat hydrilla, he said.

“We could have used a higher or lower stocking rate, but this (23.1 fish per acre) was what worked over a period of a year-and-a-half,” Chilton said.

Contacted in Chicago, LCA President Mike Bleier said the organization had requested the release of the 30,000 white Amur that was part of the TPWD’s 2006 aquatic plant management plan for Lake Conroe.

“The (Montgomery) county commissioners and (state Senator-elect) Robert Nichols had been pushing for the 30,000 as well,” Bleier said. “We (the LCA) didn’t think 27,000 fish were going to denude the lake. That’s an adequate number of fish to work with during the winter without endangering the lake.”

Bleier also denied the parks and wildlife department “yielded” to any pressure.

“They did their math to a significant problem,” he said. “The LCA is okay with their calculations.”

Chilton said the TPWD would have been “just as happy” to go wherever the data of its September hydrilla survey would have suggested.

“There’s always a little bit of a leeway in calculations, but if the amount (of fish) would have been significantly below (27,000) we would have stayed with that data, regardless of the reaction,” he said.

Texas Black Bass Unlimited President Ed Parten did not voice direct opposition to the increase of fish into Lake Conroe.

“We want to control the hydrilla,” he said following the meeting. “Our only concern is that the parks and wildlife gets too far ahead of the curve and that 27,000 of the grass carp will still be in the lake next spring. If that happens, consumption will increase and we’ll see eradication in lieu of control. Then the native vegetation in the lake will be next.”

Results of the hydrilla survey conducted on eight days from Sept. 9-21 showed a 57 percent increase – 428 acres – in surface coverage. The majority of the fast-growing water weed was found in Little Lake Creek (526 acres). Other areas of significant infestation included Caney Creek (290 acres), Lewis Creek (178) and Del Lego (23).

Bryan District Fisheries Supervisor Mark Webb, who is in charge of the hydrilla surveys, said the parks and wildlife department is conducting “a balancing act” in order to get hydrilla under control.

“We’re hoping the carp gets ahead of the hydrilla between now and next spring,” he said. “We’re not sure exactly how the fish and vegetation is going to react (after this release).”

LCA director Ben Richardson, who attended Monday’s meeting, said he was “cautiously optimistic” over the TPWD’s latest recommendation.

“I think we got as much as we could’ve hoped for this year,” he said.

It was also revealed at the meeting that the LCA and the San Jacinto River Authority agreed to split the cost for the latest batch of white Amur. Based on $6 per fish, and a $2 per fish permitting fee paid to the TPWD, each group will spend approximately $56,000.

Richardson said the LCA has sufficient funds to cover its share, while Lake Conroe Division Manager Blake Kellum said the SJRA will use money from its aquatic plant management fund to buy fish.

Chilton said the TPWD was working on the 2007 version of its aquatic management plan for Lake Conroe. The next hydrilla survey is not to take place until May, but he said both his agency and the SJRA will monitor the lake until then.

“If anything gets out of control, we can always do another survey,” he said.

Howard Roden can be reached at hroden@hcnonline.com.

©Houston Community Newspapers Online 2006