The most appetizing quarry? Maybe not, but carp will be the catch-of-the-day for Utah commercial fishing crews who've started what's believed to be the nation's most ambitious effort to remove the bottom feeders from a lake.
Fishermen are expected to pull about 6 million pounds of carp out of Utah Lake this fall and winter. Fishing started Sept. 21. About 160,000 pounds of carp have been removed so far and discussions continue on the best uses for the dead fish, Utah's June sucker recovery program director Reed Harris said Thursday.
The work is meant to help the June sucker, an endangered native fish that lives nowhere else but the 151-square-mile lake south of Salt Lake City and its tributaries.
Carp, introduced into the lake in the 1880s to provide food for locals, tear up vegetation on the bottom that provides important hiding spots for young June suckers trying to avoid predators.
Ridding Utah Lake of carp is seen as among the most important steps in recovering the June sucker and getting it off the endangered species list.
But it's no small chore.
Biologists figure there are 7 million to 8 million carp in Utah Lake that make up more than 90 percent of the weight of all fish in the lake. They hope that by removing 75 percent over the next five or six years, the carp population will crash, plants along the lake bottom will recover and the June sucker can get re-established.
During a pilot program last year, commercial fisherman Bill Loy and his crew pulled in about 1.4 million pounds. Most were used for fertilizer at a nearby farm or given to a mink farm.
Another possibility this year is mixing it into compost produced at a landfill just south of the lake. First, though, the fish will have to be tested for PCBs, chemical compounds that have been a concern at the lake and shown up in carp tissue.
State and local officials have been reviewing several other proposals for the dead carp, including grinding them into fish meal and flash-freezing them for out-of-state or overseas markets for human consumption, Harris said.
This year's operations are expected to cost around $1.3 million. About $1 million is coming from federal stimulus funds.
June sucker once numbered in the millions around Utah Lake but dwindled to just a few thousand before it was placed on the endangered species list in 1986.
The struggling sucker, named for its June spawning run, has shown some signs of recovery. This spring, biologists counted about 100 of the fish using a restored creek that's considered an important spawning tributary.