Hey anglers, be on the lookout for the fish no one wants to catch: round gobies

Post by Jenny Seifert, UWEX Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist

Round gobies are ferocious little bait stealers. For this reason, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is calling on anglers to help the agency monitor whether these invasive fishes are spreading through the state’s waterways – if you happen to catch what you think is a goby, report it to WDNR.

Round gobies are an invasive fish known to steal bait and harm fisheries. Photo by Paul Skawinski

“We know gobies bite easily, so angling is a good way to capture them,” says Kendall Kamke, WDNR’s Oshkosh fisheries team supervisor, who oversees goby detection and control efforts in the Winnebago lake system.

The goby’s appetite for worms and other bait isn’t the only mischievousness that makes them an unwanted invasive species. They tend to eat the eggs and young of native fish and outcompete natives in their own habitat, thus threatening the existence of desirable fish and your enjoyment of catching them.

If you fish in the Winnebago system, look for this sign (and this fish!).

Since there is only so much the WDNR can do with minnow traps and nets, the help of anglers is critical to tracking whether these little bait snatchers are spreading throughout the state.

“This is our second year asking anglers to be our eyes and ears on the waters,” says Kamke.

A specific area of concern is the Lake Winnebago basin, where a couple of closed locks are the only things blocking the gobies’ passage from the Fox River into Lake Winnebago, an invasion to which would give them access to 17 percent of the state’s inland waters. If you fish in this area, you may have already seen the signs recruiting your help.

So what should you do if you catch a fish you suspect to be a round goby? First, look for their trademark features: fused-together pelvic fins that look sort of like a suction cup on their belly and bulging, frog-like eyes.

If your specimen has that resemblance, then report it to the WDNR using the online goby reporting tool, which you can access right there on the water, assuming you have a smart phone and decent cellular service. The tool walks you through a few simple steps that should take just a few short minutes to complete:

  • A mapping feature will help you report your location, an important piece of information that will help the WDNR follow up on your discovery, need be.
  • Take and upload a couple of photos of your specimen, one from the side and one of the belly to try to capture its distinguishing fused fin and frog eyes.
  • Be sure to include your name and phone number in case WDNR staff needs to contact you for further information.

Regardless of whether you report your possible goby on the scene or at home, the best thing to do, if possible, is take the specimen home with you in a plastic bag and bring it to your local DNR office to have it identified.

Fortunately, all of the reported goby sightings from Lake Winnebago have so far been misidentifications.

While the goby is a fish we hope you’ll never catch, your vigilance when fishing can be a big help in the state’s efforts to detect and control these bait thieves.

And, no matter what you catch, don’t forget to take the precautions to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species before you leave the water: remove plants and debris from your boats and equipment, drain livewells and equipment and never move plants or live animals away from the waterbody.

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