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September 12, 2013
Asian carp can devastate Great Lakes' economy

The federal government is participating in ramped up efforts to prevent the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes, an invasion that “could be financially, ecologically, biologically, and socially devastating,” according to the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework issued in July 2013 by the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee.  The committee has 25 contributing members including nine U.S. agencies, agencies from all the Great Lakes states, the city of Chicago, and several Canadian agencies. 

The framework is directed mostly at the bighead and silver carp species, which were introduced into the Mississippi River watershed about 40 years ago to improve water quality in aquaculture and wastewater treatment facilities as well as to serve the food industry.  These fish are large (up to 5 feet long and over 100 pounds), can live up to 20 years, and have ravenous appetites.  Their dietary patterns may allow them to out-compete both small and large Great Lakes native fish.  According to the committee, the crippling impact of such an invasion on the multi-billion-dollar Great Lakes commercial and recreational fishing industries would be “nearly impossible” to control. 

Electric barriers

The Obama administration formed the coordinating committee in 2009 and has invested about $200 million to combat the species.  Ongoing work includes the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Inter-Basin Study (GLMRIS), which is intended to:

  • Identify potential hydraulic connections between the two basins;
  • Identify and explore existing and potential invasive species of concern and a ssess control methods;
  • Install and test electric barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal; and
  • Conduct carp monitoring and educational outreach. 

Work north of the border is summarized in the 2012 Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan.

Other physical controls

The U.S. 2013 framework represents “the unparalleled efforts of a dedicated partnership between international, federal, and state partners” committed to keeping the Great Lakes free of Asian carp, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Deputy Regional Director Charlie Wooley.  Updates included in the framework include:

  • Continuing design and construction of an additional permanent electric barrier in the Chicago Area Waterway System;
  • Developing and field testing Asian carp physical control tools such as water guns and netting; chemical control tools such as microparticles, selective toxins, and carbon dioxide; and pheromone attractants; 
  • Designing barriers preventing the transfer of aquatic nuisance species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins at the Eagle Marsh, Ohio Erie Canal, and Little Killbuck Creek potential pathway connections, as part of the GLMRIS;
  • Identifying controls, including hydrologic separation scenarios, to prevent the transfer of aquatic nuisance species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins; 
  • Expanding sampling efforts in southern Lake Michigan, western Lake Erie, and other potential invasion spots; and
  • Continuing fish tagging and utilization of sonar equipment to evaluate electric barrier effectiveness.

The 2013 framework

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