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Michigan Invasive Species: Asian Carp

66lbs asian big head carp by radcarper
66lbs asian big head carp by radcarper

It’s Invasive Species Week on Absolute Michigan & Michigan in Pictures. For our first invader, we really have to look at the scariest guy in the room, Asian Carp. The Great Lakes EPA has a page on Asian Carp and the Great Lakes that’s a solid account of how two species of carp, bighead and silver, were imported by catfish farmers in the 70s to remove algae from their ponds. Floods in the early 90s caused many catfish farm ponds to overflow, and the Asian carp were released into local waterways in the Mississippi River basin. Since then, they’ve moved up the Mississippi, becoming the dominant species in some areas of the River. (photos below via Life in Small Bites – more at that link!)

All that has stood between the carp horde and Lake Michigan has been the electric barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that connects the Mississippi by way of the Illinois River to the Great Lakes. If they get through? The picture is bleak:

jumping-carpAsian Carp are a significant threat to the Great Lakes because they are large, extremely prolific, and consume vast amounts of food. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, and can grow to a length of more than four feet. They are well-suited to the climate of the Great Lakes region, which is similar to their native Asian habitats.

Researchers expect that Asian carp would disrupt the food chain that supports the native fish of the Great Lakes. Due to their large size, ravenous appetites, and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

Asian CarpThe Christian Science Monitor (where you can find a great account of how one fish could ruin the Great Lakes) reported that Asian carp may have made it through the barrier to Lake Calumet, but chemical markings suggest that it might have been planted. Whatever the case, these fish are basically the death warrant for the Great Lakes as we know them. Henry Henderson, director of the Midwest chapter of the Natural Resources Defense Council states it simply:

“Asian carp are like cockroaches: When you see one, you know it’s accompanied by many more you don’t see. Now we can stop arguing about whether the fish are in Chicago’s canals and start moving as quickly as possible toward permanently separating the Great Lakes [from the Mississippi River]. We just cannot wait five to seven years for the Army Corps of Engineers to complete its own studies before deciding to solve this problem.”

This is exactly what appears to be happening though. The former director of the Indiana DNR John Goss was finally appointed Asian Carp Czar last week, years after the threat became urgent. The Great Lakes fishery is worth billions, and that’s just the tip of an iceberg that includes everyone who enjoys boating in the lakes (see AG Mike Cox’s brief), unless the video below looks fun to you.