Hook Pond is jammed with carp. The other evening one of the kids and I pulled over near the Dunemere Lane bridge to watch groups of the nearly leg-long fish breaking the surface of the water.
It is spawning season, and the pond is opaquely brown where males jostle to get close to the females as they deposit masses of their sticky eggs among the reeds and grasses at the edge. It would be a lovely scene if the carp actually belonged there.
The Science section of The New York Times recently reported on efforts across the Midwest to rid ponds and lakes of the invasive fish, imported long ago from Eurasia and Europe.
Here in the United States, where the tough and bulky carp have few predators, they thrive, gobbling up vegetation and displacing other species, including ducks and other birds, by taking away their food.
By also stirring up sediment, carp alter water chemistry and can promote harmful algal blooms. Attempts to limit them include electric “fences” in the water to keep them from their favored spawning areas, and mass harvests by net.
From what I remember, Hook Pond was not quite so barren when I was a teen and fished off the Maidstone Club bridges with friends. And there were no carp that I knew of.
We caught large and smallmouth bass, perch, the occasional bluegill. Ducks and wading birds seemed everywhere; now they are few. Fort Pond in Montauk is also carp-laden, though the fishing there is still decent, I suppose because the water is deeper.
Meanwhile, upland in the watershed, the government and private groups are taking on nitrogen sources in an effort to improve the water quality. No one knows what difference this will actually make over time. So far, too, the carp have evaded scrutiny for what harm they might be doing there and elsewhere.
As with any natural system, causes and effects are complicated. It is not reasonable to think that by controlling nitrogen alone the pond will spring back, nor can it be ignored, however.
I remember well, though, when phosphorus was public enemy number one as far as surface waters were concerned. Then it was acid rain. Now it’s nitrogen. But at Hook Pond another factor in the water’s decline might well be swimming right under our noses.