A plan to pull 5 million pounds of unwanted carp from a Utah lake each year _ one of the largest such attempts in the country _ got initial backing Thursday from a federal wildlife agency.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the program that began as a small-scale, state-funded experiment last year should be expanded in the coming years in the hopes of saving an endangered fish called the June sucker.
The June sucker is only found in the 151-square-mile Utah Lake west of Provo and its tributaries. They once numbered in the millions but dwindled to just a few thousand before being placed on the endangered species list in 1986.
The nonnative carp at Utah Lake tear up vegetation on the bottom that provides important hiding spots for young June suckers trying to avoid predators.
"The recovery of the June sucker couldn't happen without this project," said Kevin Sloan, a federal fisheries biologist who worked on a draft environmental assessment of the project released Thursday.
His agency's approval of the carp removal program will allow project leaders to tap into federal funds. The work is expected to cost around $1.5 million per year, including about $1 million from federal sources, according to Reed Harris, director of the Utah's June sucker recovery program.
The work _ carried out by commercial fishing crews using nets _ is done in the fall and winter when carp tend to congregate.
By removing five million pounds of carp per year from the lake, wildlife officials are hoping to cut the carp population by 75 percent in about six years, creating a population crash that will allow the June sucker to recover.
One stinky problem remains: What to do with all those dead carp?
Several options were being considered, including grinding them into fish meal or finding a buyer for human consumption. Carp is widely consumed in other parts of the world but Americans' appetite for carp is limited to a few regions.
"Almost any other fish species, commercial fishermen would be able to profit from," Sloan said.
The plan released Thursday would have most of the carp going to a nearby landfill _ some 23 tons per day. The program can expect to pay around $67,000 per year to drop them in the landfill.
Harris said organizers are taking their time analyzing other uses for the carp and want to be careful with any upfront investment they might have to make. Eventually, they'd like to find a use for the carp that will help pay for the removal program.
"Once we find someone, we want to make sure they're viable for a long time," Harris said.
Crews began fishing on the lake in September and have removed about 700,000 pounds so far.