White amurs are no longer welcome in Summit County.
The Summit Soil & Water Conservation District has stopped selling the weed-eating fish to the public as a part of its twice-a-year fish sales.
“Sometimes things sound too good to be true,” said chairman Rob Bobel of the fish from eastern Asia and its now tarnished image.
The decision came at the request of district commissioner Martin Hilovsky, president and founder of Stow-based EnviroScience, an environmental consulting firm. He is convinced that the amurs, also known as grass carp, are causing more problems than they are solving.
“I’m really growing concerned that the amurs are being used in lakes and ponds to the detriment of the water bodies,” Hilovsky said. “They are really just eating machines that are disruptive to other species.
“The feeling is that they are not as beneficial as we once thought. There is evidence of problems. They are a pest in the wild if they escape. The real question is: How can we get rid of them?”
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources does not have major concerns about the amurs as long as they are managed properly, said fish biology supervisor Kevin Kayle in the Fairport Harbor office.
He said he was unaware of any other soil-water districts in Ohio that have stopped selling amurs.
The Summit district typically sold as many as 100 amurs a year, said district staffer Jeannine Royer. The local agency has been selling the fish to the public for at least 10 years. The price charged was $12 per fish.
Amurs can grow up to 4 feet in length and can weigh more than 80 pounds. They live from five to nine years. The fish was introduced to the United States in the 1960s for aquatic weed control.
Ohio and 42 other states have allowed grass carp to be brought into their respective states, but only if the fish are sterile.
Most people stock the amurs in ponds and lakes to reduce the Eurasian milfoil that is the No. 1 weed problem in Summit County, according to Hilovsky.
The fish are selective feeders and like other aquatic plants before it will eat the milfoil, he said.
“That’s the last thing they will eat,” he said. “They’ll eat everything else first including desirable plant species.”
The amurs can be “rough on aquatic plant communities,” he said.
Ten years ago, amurs in a pond in Liberty Park in northern Summit County would leap out of the water to eat tips and leaves from willow trees, Hilovsky said. They also jumped out of the water onto banks to eat vegetation before sliding back into the water, he said.
“They were like little torpedoes,” he said.
Stocking amurs can also contribute to algae problems in ponds because the fish often root around in sediments. This coupled with the volume of fish waste from amurs can trigger algae outbreaks.
The fish are often small when stocked and the impacts grow as the fish do. So problems may emerge several years after stocking.
Most pond and lake owners also overstock the feed eaters and that complicates everything, Hilovsky said.
The amurs are supposed to sterile, unable to reproduce, but there is widespread evidence that the fish are reproducing in local ponds and lakes, he said.
They also move toward moving water and are inclined to try to get away, he said. Any amurs that escape ponds and lakes could get into Ohio waterways and compete with native fish, he said.
Back in the mid-1980s, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park stocked the weed-eating amurs in ponds in the park, said Bobel, an engineer with the National Park Service and chair of the Summit soil-and-water district. The operation failed when the amurs reproduced, he said.
Stocking white amurs is, in effect, the introduction of an invasive exotic species, Bobel said.
There may be good places like golf course ponds to stock amurs, said Bobel and Hilovsky.
Pond owners will also be able to purchase amurs from other soil-and-water districts and from private hatcheries.
The Summit decision not to sell amurs is “probably a wise decision,” said Mike Johnson, chief of resource management for Metro Parks, Serving Summit County.
“It is better to err on the side of safety,” he said. “The potential to become invasive species and a problem is very high for the amurs.”
The district has stocked amurs at Silver Creek Metro Park in Norton and at ponds at the Seiberling Nature Realm in North Akron, he said.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.