Asian carp pose danger to Midwest waters

By SpencerRoush

An invasive species of carp that allegedly disrupts ecosystems and causes economic destruction may have infiltrated Lake Michigan, according to researchers who reported on Jan. 19 that the Asian carp’s DNA was found in water samples.

The species has been traveling toward the Great Lakes to dominate yet another water system. The threat of the Asian carp, which can reach up to 100 pounds and grow to more than four feet in length, has recently become more prominent because current procedures being used to block the fish from entering Lake Michigan aren’t effective enough, according to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.

Illinois officials said they agree with many Great Lakes advocates that swift action must be taken to stop the fish from infiltrating Lake Michigan. However, their ideas of how to carry out this project differ.

“We are facing a challenge we’ve never faced before, nothing to this magnitude,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) at a briefing featuring the Asian carp threat on Jan. 12. He added that if the carp reaches the Great Lakes, there will be “economic devastation.”

Cox filed a lawsuit against Illinois on Dec. 21 after urging officials to close waterways in the Chicago area to ensure the Asian carp cannot enter the lake. Other states joined Cox in the lawsuit, including Ohio, New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Canadian province of Ontario.

“I hope these states will join us instead of suing us, which is where we are now,” said Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) at the Jan. 12 briefing.

Durbin and Biggert, who have been working for more than six years together on this project, said closing the waterways would greatly affect Chicago’s shipping industry. In 2008, the Sanitary and Ship canal was used to move approximately 7 million tons of cargo.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that closing the O’Brien Lock, which is the uppermost barrier on the illinois waterway, would back-flood 14,000 homes.

Cox countered these numbers and said the Asian carp pose a larger threat if they reach the Great Lakes because it would impact the $7 billion fishing industry and more than 800,000 jobs related to the lakes. Cox also started an online petition along with the lawsuit, asking families to join in the fight to show local and federal authorities their concern. However, on Jan. 19 the Supreme Court dismissed hearing the case.

On Jan. 19, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court refused Michigan’s injunction to force Illinois to close vital locks in the Chicago area, environmental DNA of the carp was found in Lake Michigan for the first time, providing evidence that the threat was real.

According to a statement released by the U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers, the eDNA was found in Calumet Harbor and at another location north of the Calumet River at the O’Brien Lock. The samples were collected by the University of Notre Dame on Dec. 8 and were processed to determine if the fish were present in the lake.

David Lodge, director of the eDNA project at the University of Notre Dame, said in a written statement that their current eDNA process indicates that there is a “likely presence” of carp.

With the locks remaining open and new evidence of the carp, officials still plan to execute their former plan to build a second, more powerful electric barrier, which is expected to be put into place in the fall.

The Regional Coordinating Committee, which comprises agencies responding to the newfound eDNA, plans to continue to research and apply detection systems to find the location of the fish. They are also working to apply a system that would operate the locks to minimize the risk of carp migration, among other projects.

Richard Lanyon, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago said proper scientific research must be done before reacting so harshly to close the waterways.

According to Durbin, there are other options. He said there is a market for the carp and they are being fished out of the Mississippi and shipped overseas. They may also be stocked in U.S. stores under the name “Silver Fin.”