Panel suggests using fish to clear weeds from river

If you can't kill the weeds, maybe you can hire fish to eat them.

That was the consensus Monday of an Augusta Port Authority subcommittee working to find a solution for aquatic weeds that have all but closed off portions of the Savannah River.

"The grass carp is what the committee, apparently, wants to pursue," authority Chairman Frank Carl said. "But before we do anything, we need to get more specifics on how many carp, when and where to put them in, and all the details we need to build a budget."

Aquatic weeds in the river include dense mats of Brazilian elodea -- an invasive exotic -- that are choking shallow areas around homes and docks. The weed beds also trap litter and silt, causing the channel to gradually shrink or fill in.

Though control options include investing in a mechanical harvester or herbicides, the use of sterile grass carp that feed voraciously on the unwanted vegetation is probably the best idea, committee member Bill Bricker said.

The carp, which can grow to 30 pounds or more, have been successful at controlling invasive weeds on major reservoirs, including Georgia's Lake Seminole and the Santee lakes in South Carolina, he said.

"Everybody agreed the weedwhacker was a good idea, but it would cost too much in maintenance," Mr. Bricker said. "Dredging is out of the question, and people have talked about using herbicides, but there are always objections to that."

The grass carp can be purchased from a licensed dealer and stocked at about 12 fish per weed-covered acre, Mr. Bricker said, but the committee doesn't know how many would be needed.

The current cost of such fish is about $7 apiece.

The fish are sterile and can't reproduce, meaning they vanish once they die out or are removed.

The area most in need of weed control is the river channel along much of downtown Augusta, Dr. Carl said.

Before anyone can buy or introduce fish into the public waterway, the committee will need to consult the departments of natural resources in Georgia and South Carolina because the river is a shared resource.

"We would certainly need permission from DNR, but we need to come up with a specific plan so they have something to respond to," Dr. Carl said.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.