LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — There’s something fishy happening at Lake Mead — while the water level has dropped over recent years, there is no apparent drop in the number of fish begging for food at the marinas at Hemenway Harbor.

On a sunny early morning weekend visit in late March, there were already families with large bags of store-bought popcorn feeding the gaping fish mouths of dozens – maybe hundreds – of carp and striper. It’s an uncanny sight to many to see these giant fish with human-like lips jutting out of the lake waiting to be fed.

Carp and striper fish swim around the Lake Mead marinas at Hemenway Harbor. Mar. 26, 2023 (Photo: Duncan Phenix – KLAS)

Lake Mead is actually experiencing a water level rise in March, it is up about a quarter of an inch in the past week. However, forecasts still expect the level to drop to a record low over the next few months.

Non-native fish

According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) carp in this area of the Colorado River basin could be found prior to the building of the Hoover Dam and the subsequent filling of Lake Mead. In a 2008 interview with an NDOW supervisor, it was the state Fish Commission that introduced the species in the 1880s for sport-fishing and eating. Not many people fish for carp anymore as American tastes have changed.

Carp are what’s known as bottom-feeders. They use their large, sucker-like mouth to vacuum up anything and almost everything from the bottom of the lake. Carps will digest live and dead organic material (including dead and decaying things) at an alarming rate. This leads to many calling them nuisance fish as they can tear up live vegetation that other animals use for cover.

“But as the carp population thrives, native razorback suckers struggle to survive,” according to the National Park Service (NPS). “Endlessly threatened by a variety of factors including habitat loss, being hunted by non-native fish, and contaminants in the waters.”

To feed or not to feed

People who visit the marinas at the bottom of Hemenway Wash have been feeding the carp, striper and even ducks for decades. Anyone can buy a bag of popcorn from the marina shop for less than three dollars.

Hemenway Harbor at Lake Mead. Mar. 26, 2023 (Photo: Duncan Phenix – KLAS)

Even though every day dozens of visitors are feeding the fish, the NPS itself does not condone it. “As a general rule, we don’t want people to feed wildlife which is generally prohibited,” Mike Theune, Acting Public Affairs Officer for Lake Mead National Recreation Area told 8 News Now. “If we see people, we talk with them to help them understand why they shouldn’t feed (the fish) popcorn.”

Doug Nielsen with NDOW told 8 News Now while it’s not advisable to feed any type of wildlife, he was not aware of any adverse health effects of fish eating popcorn. He did, however, point out that it is a very bad idea to feed any type of human food to the ducks and other birds at the lake.

Overall Nielson said the population of fish at Lake Mead is doing well. The fluctuating lake levels have not appeared to harm any of the fish species at the lake and if anything it has concentrated larger schools of fish together, making catching fish a little easier.