Invasive Asian Carp Threaten the Great Lakes


by Cynthia Avila, Assistant Editor of La Prensa Libre de Simpson Street

Over the years, invasive species have made a home in the Mississippi River. But it seems that the Asian carp has yet again found its way into a Chicago waterway that is nine miles from Lake Michigan. It was caught below T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam by a commercial fisherman working with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This is not the first time an Asian carp has snuck through the three electrical barriers, which are located in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. In 2010, a bighead carp was caught in Lake Calumet.

The electric barrier system, which is run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was designed to prevent invasive species, such as the Asian Carp, from entering and reaching the Great Lakes. The silver carp, which is one of the four types of Asian carp, weighed around eight pounds and measured 28 inches long. The silver carp was sent to Southern Illinois University where biologists will determine its origin.

After the silver carp was found, a two-week highly concentrated search for other Asian carps was conducted. Beginning in the area that the silver carp was found, a series of electric stunning contraptions and nets were used to probe the area, including other Chicago Waterways and Lake Calumet Harbor.

Charlie Wooley, who is the Midwest deputy regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated, “the discovery doesn’t mean Asian carp have become established in the rivers and canals between the barriers and the Great Lakes, or in the lake themselves. It’s more likely the carp was a loner that somehow made its way into the Chicago area.”

Scientists worry that if the Asian carp does find its way into the Chicago’s Waterway systems or Lake Michigan, it can potentially disrupt the aquatic food chain, compete with or eliminate native species, and ruin the district's $7 billion fishing industry. Their biggest concerns are bighead and silver carps because of their unquenchable appetite for plankton. Plankton is one of the most common, yet limited, food source for various aquatic animals and fish.

Although the state of Illinois has developed an instant-action plan to search for the Asian carps, many feel that the electric barriers are not enough to keep invasive species out. Members of Congress from various states surrounding the Great Lakes region have proposed barriers around the Chicago’s Waterways which will separate the lakes from the Mississippi complex. But these proposals were denied by Illinois lawmakers because it would disrupt shipping.

In February, The Army Corps was supposed to release a report on actions to strengthen defenses against invasive species at Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, Illinois, but the Trump administration has postponed these efforts.

Although one silver carp was found past the electric barriers, it is very unlikely that adult bighead and silver carp have yet made their way into the Great Lakes. Wooley says that with continual fishing, breeding populations will be kept under control. But, along with unsatisfied environmental groups, Michigan’s Governor, Rick Snyder, is accepting proposals that will help keep away the invasive fish that have overtaken the Mississippi river from entering the Great Lakes.

Scientist and engineers in the region are currently working on this dilemma, but the state feels that it would be beneficial to receive input from creative thinkers around the world. Proposals will be accepted until October 31, and one or more winners could win up to $700,000 in cash awards total.

[Sources: Associated Press; Chicago Tribune]

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