MDC fisheries department worker Bradley Kunce, of the Hunnewell Hatchery in Shelby County, stocks fish in George O. White Lake in Texas County. Many small fish stocked by MDC in the lake were recently eaten by lunker largemouth bass unwittingly introduced by an unknown person or persons. 

While some people might think they’re doing something good by taking it upon themselves to stock Ozarks bodies of water with fish, Missouri Department of Conservation officials say the effects of their actions might not be desirable.

In fact, the results can be downright detrimental.

“A lot of people don’t realize what those effects might be,” said MDC Texas County agent Chris Ely. “It’s an issue for us as far as our management of Missouri’s resources.”

A problem resulting from citizen stocking, so to speak, can be found right here in Texas County at the MDC’s George O. White State Forest Nursery near Licking. A lake was created at the facility that was scientifically stocked with small fish by MDC fisheries department experts.

But a citizen introduced “lunker” largemouth bass and unwittingly caused many of the fingerlings to become meals.

“Our fisheries folks base their stocking numbers on the size of the lake and existing fish populations,” said nursery assistant supervisor Dena Biram. “When other people put additional fish in the lake, it changes the ability of the lake to provide what they need to survive. Fish will not survive in overcrowded conditions and larger fish of some species will eat smaller fish.

“Putting large fish in a newly stocked lake with fingerlings can defeat the purpose of stocking at all. Fortunately we have some great fisheries folks who helped with the issues.”

CHRIS ELY

Ely stressed that moving fish from one place to another can move other undesirable things, too.

“The fish species may not be the issue,” he said. “The true issue can be the movement of exotics that can take place.”

Those exotic – and often invasive – species include the zebra mussel and a prolific single-celled called didymo (a.k.a. “rock snot”).

“By all means, we don’t want those things in the Big Piney River,” Ely said. “It would cause havoc with what’s already there.”

Disease might also spread if a fish is moved.

“Imagine buying what looks like a perfectly healthy fish from Walmart, putting it in your aquarium, and then all your other fish get sick,” Ely said. “It’s the same concept we deal with, and that’s why we prefer to do the stocking. We’re very careful and we know that the fish we stock are clean.”

{{tncms-inline alignment=”right” content=”<p>Call the MDC regional office in West Plains at 417-256-7161 (ask for fisheries). Ely can be reached at 417-260-2865 or agent Jeff Crites at 417-260-2855. The MDC fisheries department’s web address is <a href="http://www.fishing.mdc.mo.gov" target="_blank"><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><strong>www.fishing.mdc.mo.gov</strong></span></a>.</p>” id=”9d913e8e-bfc8-4120-a673-2104de635735″ style-type=”info” title=”More Information” type=”relcontent” width=”half”}}

Ely said due care and caution should also be used when stocking private ponds, or “impoundments.” The MDC recommends using its “authorized fish species list” as a guideline.

“If those species were to somehow escape an impoundment, they’re species that already exist in our river systems,” Ely said. “The ones we recommend putting into a pond in Texas County are bass, bluegill, catfish and maybe red ear sunfish, or what people call ‘shellcracker.’ And depending on the impoundment, maybe crappie.”

Ely said bringing in exotic fish, like tilapia, isn’t out of the question, but requires following stringent rules.

“If some species were to get into our rivers,” he said, “they might actually out-compete the natives. Then, eventually, we wouldn’t have those species, which are largely responsible for making Missouri rivers what they are.”

The trick is to make sure an impoundment containing exotics is “closed,” with no possible escape route.

“We certainly allow tilapia to be raised in Missouri,” Ely said, “but they have to be in a closed system such that if it breaches, there’s no drain path to your local stream. I’ve seen some of these tilapia productions and they’re pretty neat.”

The issue isn’t limited to fish, Ely said.

“This is a broader issue,” he said. “It could be plants, for example. Someone might move a plant because they think it’s pretty, and it ends up taking over a lake.

“Even with a farm pond, if you have questions about what to bring into it, our fisheries folks can look at it and say, ‘this is what we recommend that you plant.’ They can even give you ideas where to get it.”

The bottom line is, stocking and moving aquatic species is something best left to qualified experts and officials, Ely said.

“The conservation department has been entrusted with the job of managing the fish, forest and wildlife resources of the entire state – the taxpayers pay for us to do it,” he said. “So rather than taking it upon yourself to move these species around and not really know the whole story, let us do it. We understand someone might have good intentions, but we have specialized people who have been trained in that field and know what they’re doing and how to do it.

“If someone wants, for example, to have more catfish in a certain area, they should petition us to make that happen. We’ll be objective and take a look at it, and if it’s something that should be done, we’ll do it.”

Several people try their luck at fishing in a small lake during an open house event last April at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s George O. White State Forest Nursery west of Licking. The lake’s fish population experienced trouble when large bass were introduced by the public. 

Call the MDC regional office in West Plains at 417-256-7161 (ask for fisheries). Ely can be reached at 417-260-2865 or agent Jeff Crites at 417-260-2855. The MDC fisheries department’s web address is www.fishing.mdc.mo.gov.

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