Little Marines Call For Reinforcements

Payson orders a new company of weed-eating fish after first wave suffers losses


The Little Marines hit the beach hard, suffering heavy losses.

But they dug in -- and have called for reinforcements.


Two of the imported White Amurs from Arkansas that were put in the lakes at Green Valley Park encountered some problems and now more fish are being brought in to help combat the weeds.

Make no mistake: Those sodden weeds are in for it.

So next week, Payson will deploy another 48 weed-eating White Amur in one of the Green Valley Lakes, to make up for the loss of two fish who died in the line of duty after the first stocking of 15.

Imported originally from China, the White Amurs have such a fierce appetite that they can keep waterweeds from choking the lakes that delight fishermen in the process of returning the town's treated wastewater to the water table.

Two of the original fish Payson purchased from a fish farm in Arkansas, died shortly after they hit the water, probably because they couldn't shake off the effects of the drugs used to keep the fish from thrashing about and hurting themselves on the long ride in the small tank, said Karen Probert, with the Payson Water Department.

So the fish farm agreed to replace the two fallen fish as part of the next wave of weed gobblers slated to arrive next week.

The tough, wary, vegetarians have become an effective, relatively low-cost way to keep aquatic weeds from overwhelming lakes, canals and reservoirs. The town paid about $30 per fish for its first batch, but the next platoon is larger -- and so will cost only about $20 per fish, said Probert.

The town had to take elaborate precautions to make sure that the White Amurs don't escape into the Verde River, for fear of their impact on the habitat there.

For starters, the folks at the fishery sterilized the fish by treating the eggs before they hatched.

Moreover, the town staff built a $6,000 fish screen, to keep the fish from getting from the small lake into the large lake -- which in case of flood, flows can top the outlet and flow down into the Verde.

If the augmented force of more than 60 of the voracious weed eaters does a good job on the smaller of the Green Valley Park lakes, they may be unleashed on the main lake.

Right now, the water department employees use a homemade mechanical weed eater to keep the plants at bay. But the town will have to build a more expensive fish screen on the large lake before unleashing the fish they've dubbed the "Little Marines."

Probert noted that it would take a while to tell whether the fish have won their underwater war with the weeds, since the Amur are notoriously wary.

Biologists say that the fish can grow to 30 or 50 pounds and will sometimes jump right out of the water to avoid the effects of the electroshock gear that fish wranglers generally use to round up escapees.

In the meantime, it remains illegal for anglers to catch the imported fish. The state stocks the Green Valley Lakes with trout until the water gets too warm in May.

However, fishermen continue to loll on the banks catching warm-water species like bass, catfish, bluegill, crappies and other fish that have been slipped into the lakes illegally in past years.

So if you hook a Little Marine, just plop him back in there as gently as possible.

You don't want to upset the Marines.

Or Buzz Walker for that matter.

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