Asian Carp: Great Lakes Ecosystem Hanging in Balance

| 2/26/2010 10:14:41 AM

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgBelow the water’s surface lurks danger. A voraciously monstrous creature devours nearly half its body-weight each day in an attempt to cure its insatiable appetite. An unsuspecting boater enters the territory, and the beast breaches the water, violently hurling itself through the air toward the boat’s startled and horrified occupant.

Creature from the Black Lagoon imageSound like another creature has risen from the Black Lagoon? If only it was so, but this creature is not fictional. Last February, I wrote about the Emerald Ash Borer’s destruction of millions of our country’s native ash trees, and now there’s another invasive species making headlines as it threatens to invade the Great Lakes Region.

It’s the Asian Carp, and it has the ability to quickly dominate every waterbody it enters … and it’s about to enter the largest body of freshwater in the world. I first heard about Asian Carp a couple of months ago when I read about a massive fish kill planned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The kill was to take place when the electrical barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was shut down for routine maintenance. Both the barrier and the kill are efforts to keep the fish out of Lake Michigan.

An electrical fish barrier – the world’s largest, designed to keep fish from the world’s largest freshwater supply? Planned massive fish kills? Asian carp? Call it a case of being unaware until it hits close to home, but I had no idea these things existed.

The Asian carp though, have been in this country since the sixties when they were brought to Arkansas by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a biological control for aquatic weeds, and for use as pond cleaners in fish farms. Though they may have escaped earlier, it’s thought the Mississippi flooding in 1990 escalated the problem. Because the fish are prolific breeders, they are now the dominant species in many parts of the Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Columbia and Platte Rivers, and their tributaries, making up to 97 percent percent of the fish population in areas of heavy infestation. There are two electrical barriers which operate much in the same way as do electrical livestock fences. They are considered the last line of defense between the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes Basin, but must be shut down periodically for maintenance.

Native to China, Russia, and Vietnam, four species are lumped under the generic term “Asian carp.” All four species – the black, grass, bighead and silver carp – have no known predators, and can quickly deplete the food supply of other fish species. Feeding on plankton, they consume up to 40 percent of their body weight, effectively starving out other fish. The effects eventually make its way up the food chain so that scientists fear even the bigger game fish – sturgeon, salmon and trout – may become endangered.

Cindy Murphy
3/3/2010 5:57:17 PM

Hi, Dave! Back from your trip already? (Or do the days seem to go by faster since I'm getting older?'s probably the latter.) Looking forward to reading about it in your blog. I'm not sure of the particulars, but I read somewhere that there are two respresentives in Illinois trying to get federal grant money to start a Asian carp fishing industry to use the fish for fertilizers and biofuel. Private fisherman have developed bow-fishing the carp into quite a helmets are recommended as protection from the ones that fly outta the water like speeding bullets. Thanks for the comments, Michelle. It always makes me happy you still stop by.

Nebraska Dave
3/3/2010 10:31:17 AM

Cindy, I had heard about the Asian Carp dilemma but had no idea it was as bad as it is. I didn’t know that they got so big either. My goodness fifty pounds is a big fish. I’d say that maybe a good business opportunity could come from this. A company could harvest the fish and process them into fish meal which should make for a good fertilizer. Don’t you think? It sounds like there would be an endless supply. The picture of the jumping fish is positively fascinating. I’ve seen little fish do that but not fish of this size. It saddens my heart to think that man continues to believe that he knows better than nature. To introduce a species into an area where the balance of nature doesn’t exit is absolutely ludicrous. I certainly hope our arrogance doesn’t ruin our county’s waters. My fondest memories have been related to fishing. I would hate to think that could be in jeopardy. Thank you so much for you kind words on my first blog entry. I was quite surprised to see the many responses when I returned from the Great Central American Road Trip. I really have to get started on the personal blogs about the trip. After 10 days of foreign country food my stomach is still readjusting to American food. :) I guess maybe that’s telling me something.

Michelle House
2/28/2010 10:30:30 AM

Hi Cindy, well there is no easy answer is there. Kind of between a rock and a hard place, on this one. Very good article as always. Michelle :)

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