Asian Carp; An Ecolgical Disastor Waiting To Happen

I have lately harped on the Asian Carp; a complex of potentially destructive fish put in the Illinois River by well intentioned catfish farmers who could not stop the advance of this carp (several species) once they became loose in the Illinois river system after a well documented series of spring floods in  that area. Here is how the EPA sees this disastor waiting to happen. I think invasive anything (European Starlings, Asian mongoose, Purple Swamphen, Burmese Pythons and Norway Rats come to mind) can have disasterous impacts on entire ecosystems. Asian Carp in the Great Lakes are a disastor in waiting.

 Matt

Asian Carp have been found in the Illinois River, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Due to their large size and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

To prevent the carp from entering the Great Lakes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, the State of Illinois, the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to install and maintain a permanent electric barrier between the fish and Lake Michigan.

How did Asian carp get so close to the Great Lakes?

Two species of Asian carp — the bighead and silver — were imported by catfish farmers in the 1970’s to remove algae and suspended matter out of their ponds. During large floods in the early 1990s, many of the catfish farm ponds overflowed their banks, and the Asian carp were released into local waterways in the Mississippi River basin.

The carp have steadily made their way northward up the Mississippi, becoming the most abundant species in some areas of the River.

Chicago Area waterways map showing location of carp barrier
Chicago Area waterways map showing location of carp barrier (Illustration courtesy of Phil Moy, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute)

The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, where the barrier is being constructed, connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes via the Illinois River.

What effects might Asian carp have on the Great Lakes?

Asian 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.

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