Asian Carp & the Great Lakes

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi River system for years after escaping from fish farms and wastewater treatment ponds in the southern U.S.

They’re knocking on the door of the Great Lakes, and a number of people are concerned about what could happen if carp become established in the region.

In this five-part series, we’ll take a look at what officials are trying to do to keep the fish out, what might happen if carp get in, and why some people want to turn carp into a business opportunity.

Asian carp leaping out of a river.
glfc.org

Crews will begin an intensive search for Asian carp in the Chicago area tomorrow after finding more DNA evidence of the fish in waterways close to Lake Michigan.  Officials found the genetic material above a system of electric barriers that are intended to keep carp out of Lake Michigan.

Chris McCloud is with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He says crews will go out this week on the North Shore Channel and an area of the Chicago River and look for carp.

"We are very confident that if there are Asian carp present in the Chicago Area Waterway System, that they are in very, very low numbers."

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Schools might get a break on standardized tests

"The Michigan Department of Education is considering a proposal to give schools a break on standardized test accountability. The proposal would amend the department's accountability system to allow students who fail a Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam to be considered proficient on the test if they show significant improvement. The Detroit Free Press reports the change would mean some schools could get a better rating from the state," the Associated Press reports.

More money spent on TV ads for  ballot proposals than candidates

"Interest groups are spending unprecedented amounts of money on TV ads supporting or opposing initiatives to amend the state constitution. That’s according to a report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Since August, groups have poured about $30 million into TV ads. That’s far more than what’s being spent on individual candidates, including those running for president or US Senate," Jake Neher reports.

Asian carp search begins this week

"Federal and state officials will hunt for Asian carp near Chicago starting Tuesday, after finding more DNA evidence of the fish close to Lake Michigan. Crews will go out this week on the North Shore Channel and an area of the Chicago River," Rebecca Williams reports.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Election complaint filed against Snyder

"A ballot campaign has filed an elections complaint against Governor Rick Snyder. It says he’s using his official website and other state resources illegally to campaign against Proposal 5. Matt Davis is an attorney for the Proposal 5 campaign. That’s the one to require super-majority votes for the Legislature to raise taxes. Davis says Governor Snyder has posted videos to his official webpage, used staff time, and other public resources to campaign against the ballot question. The complaint was filed with the Michigan Secretary of State. A violation is punishable by a fine of a thousand dollars or a year in jail. Governor Snyder – who is a licensed attorney – says he’s on solid legal ground -- and will continue to campaign for the emergency manager law and against the five proposed amendments to the state constitution on the November ballot," Rick Pluta reports.

More Asian carp DNA found

"More DNA from Asian carp has been found in Chicago-area waters, and officials say an intensive search for the unwelcome fish will take place next week. A committee of federal and state agencies said Tuesday the search was triggered by the discovery of genetic material from Asian carp during three consecutive rounds of water sampling between June and September. Officials say the presence of Asian carp DNA doesn't necessarily signal the presence of live fish," the AP reports.

Meningitis outbreak claims third life in Michigan

"The Centers for Disease Control reports a third fatality in Michigan tied to a nationwide meningitis outbreak. The CDC now says 25 patients in Michigan are linked to the outbreak tied  to tainted steroid injections. The injections were intended to relieve spinal pain.   But a fungus contaminated the compound used in the injections. Nationwide the meningitis outbreak has sickened 119 people. Eleven people have died including three people in Michigan. The Centers for Disease Control believes as many as 13,000 people may have been exposed to the tainted steroid," Steve Carmody reports.

Asian carp leaping out of a river.
glfc.org

Michigan congressman Dave Camp is calling out the Army Corps of Engineers for dragging its feet on a plan to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

Camp released a statement this morning claiming the Corps is ignoring the timeline for completing a plan set out in the Stop Invasive Species Act, legislation he wrote with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Camp’s law called for a plan to be in place by January 2014

USACE

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has released a draft of its study on how aquatic invasive species can move between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins - the boundary between the basins stretches for around 1,500 miles.

Not including the major pathway of the 'Chicago Area Waterway,' the USACE said there are a total of 18 potential pathways:

Adam Allington

by Adam Allington for the Environment Report

As the nation’s civic leaders search for a permanent solution to keep invasive Asian carp from spreading, other parts of the country are betting on the carp’s future.  Across the Mississippi Valley, fishermen and exporters are teaming up to develop the market for carp, and carp products.  Some people hope that selling carp might be the best method for checking their expansion.

When the French explorer Père Marquette traveled down the Illinois River in 1673, his journal tells of encounters with “monstrous fish” so large they nearly overturned his canoe.   

In all likelihood the fish Marquette was talking about were channel catfish, but nearly 340 years later fisherman Josh Havens says it’s bighead carp... and silver carp which now harass boaters on the Illinois (silver carp are the jumpers).

“Oh everybody hates ‘em, except for people that shoot ‘em and stuff like that.  I hate ‘em when I’m trying to tube with my kids, but then when we’re trying to shoot ‘em I like them.  So it’s a love-hate thing.”

Asian carp at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.
Kate Gardiner / Creative Commons

They've become YouTube stars: big fat Asian carp leaping into boats and sometimes breaking bones as they come flailing into the boat of some poor person who just wanted to enjoy some time on the water.

A Carp Hunter in action near Peoria, IL.
YouTube

Shark Week, schmark week.

It's Asian Carp Week here at Michigan Radio!

All week long, The Environment Report has been bringing us stories about Asian Carp & the Great Lakes.

Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee

You've probably seen those YouTube sensations: the jumping carp.

Silver carp are the jumpers.  If there are a lot of them packed in shoulder to shoulder in a river channel... it can be dangerous.

Duane Chapman is a leading carp expert. He’s with the U.S. Geological Survey in Missouri. 

“They’ve hurt a lot of people – I’ve been hurt by them – I’ve seen a couple of broken jaws, people have been knocked off boats.”

Asian carp were imported to the U.S. in the 1970’s and used in research ponds and fish farms.  At some point, they escaped, and they’ve been making their way up the Mississippi River system ever since.

The question that's on a lot of people’s minds now, is what will happen if Asian carp get established in the Great Lakes. 

Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

Today, we continue our week-long series on Asian carp and the Great Lakes.

Most of the efforts to keep bighead and silver carp out of the Great Lakes are focused on the shipping canals in the Chicago area.  But there are other ways the carp could get into the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at more than a dozen other possible watery routes carp could take.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Many biologists, politicians, and other say the threat of Asian carp getting into the Great Lakes is cause for concern. The silver carp are especially a nuisance. Those are the ones that can jump as high as 10-feet out of the water. They flop onto boats, and can cause injuries to fishermen.

The Environment Report has been taking a closer look at the effects these fish could have on our rivers and lakes, in the series -- Asian Carp & the Great Lakes.

Rebecca Williams and I took a trip to Eagle Marsh, Indiana. The wetland preserve is located on the southwest border of Fort Wayne. There, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources built what is nearly a 1,200 foot long, 8 foot high chain link fence, designed to block potential advancement of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes.

Here's a video of our trip, plus footage of Asian carp in action, and interviews with experts.

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

The issue of keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes has implications for a variety of industries.  Midwest officials are weighing a range of options, including severing the connection between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins.  In the second part of our series on Asian carp, Adam Allington examines the potential economic implications for keeping the carp out of the lakes now, and in the future:

It’s a scorching hot day in East St. Louis, Illinois.  Down by the Mississippi River a tugboat is pushing a flotilla of six light green barges. This 70-mile stretch of river is one of the busiest inland ports in America—a place where grain, aggregate and steel are loaded and shipped up and down the river.

“We operate about 200 barges in all parts of the inland waterways, anything that’s connected to the Mississippi.”

Mark Fletcher runs Ceres Barge Lines.  At any point roughly a quarter of his business is tied up moving freight in and around the Chicago area.  As far as he’s concerned, any carp mitigation strategy that closes or slows shipping on the Chicago canals would be a disaster for his business.

“It would affect us terrifically and it affects the whole industry terrifically because you’ve got so much tonnage that does move up the Illinois River trying to get into the steel mills of Burns Harbor, Indiana, Indiana Harbor, south of Chicago.”

Great Lakes Commission

by Adam Allington for the Environment Report

Earlier this spring, the Obama administration ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a five-year study of options to block invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.  Many biologists say the best solution would be complete separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.  But basin separation comes with its own multi-billion dollar price tag... and it would require re-plumbing the entire City of Chicago.

This story begins with a nice round number, and that number is 1900… the year the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was complete. 

Back then, the canal’s opening was touted as one of the biggest civil engineering feats of the industrial age—significant, for completely reversing the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan and taking all the sewage from the city of Chicago with it.

Over 100 years later, that canal is still doing the same job.

“On any given day, depending on the time of year, approximately 60-80 percent of the volume of the Chicago River is treated municipal wastewater.”

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

There’s new evidence that Asian carp could be in western Lake Erie.

Last month, crews took 150 water samples from Sandusky Bay and the Sandusky River.  They were testing for traces of genetic material from Asian carp. The results just came back this week.  20 of those samples tested positive for the presence of silver carp.

Now, these positive samples could indicate there are live carp in the lake.  But biologists say the genetic material could’ve also come from dead carp, or fish-eating birds or boats that came into contact with Asian carp.

Asian Carp in the Great Lakes

Aug 22, 2012

Issues & Ale: Asian Carp in the Great Lakes

Tues, Sept. 18, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

Kirby House
2 Washington Ave.
Grand Haven, MI 49417

How much of a threat do Asian carp pose for the Great Lakes and what effect could they have on recreation and the fishing industry? Is harvesting the fish a way to solve the problem? What is being done now and what are the future options to keep this invasive species in check?

Rebecca Williams from Michigan Radio’s Environment Report hosted this panel discussion at the Kirby House in downtown Grand Haven. Panelists included Dr. Carl Ruetz-Grand Valley State University, Tammy Newcomb-Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Denny Grinold-Old Grin Sport Fishing.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Silver and bighead carp don't appear to be living and breeding in Lake Erie - yet.

Environmental DNA from the fish was found in the lake near the Maumee River last year.  Environmental DNA comes from things like fish mucus, excrement, or scales.

But no Asian carp were captured in a recent electrofishing survey, which temporarily stuns fish with an electrical current.

Todd Kalisch is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Crews with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, along with the Ohio DNR, are searching Lake Erie for Asian carp this week.

They’re stepping up their sampling efforts because of lab results that showed six water samples from Lake Erie had positive environmental DNA hits for Asian carp. Those water samples were from August 2011.

The teams are now out on the lake to see if they can find any more evidence of bighead or silver carp in the lake.

Todd Kalish is the Lake Erie Basin Coordinator with the Michigan DNR.  He says a positive eDNA sample could mean there are live Asian carp in Lake Erie... but there are other possibilities.

"A positive DNA sample basically means that some part of a carp was left behind within 24 hours of a sample being taken. And so it could’ve been a scale or mucus or excrement. Basically what it tells us, and what we assume, that environmental DNA means there was a silver or bighead carp in that area within 24-48 hours of the sampling."

US Geological Survey -- Florida Integrated Science Center, Gainesville

State wildlife officials are concerned that a potentially damaging fish has turned up in the St. Joseph River in Berrien County.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

City of Wyoming cannot ban medical marijuana

Michigan’s Court of Appeals has struck down a city ordinance banning medical marijuana. The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is one of a few local governments that has banned medical marijuana – citing federal drug laws. A Wyoming resident and medical marijuana patient sued the city. Yesterday the Court of Appeals ruled cities cannot ban medical marijuana because state law allows it. The judges say any prosecution under federal laws would be up to the federal government, not local governments. A similar case against the City of Birmingham in metro Detroit is pending.

Search for Asian carp in Lake Erie

Scientists have begun searching two of western Lake Erie's bays and tributary rivers for signs of dreaded Asian carp. Officials announced last month that DNA from bighead and silver carp had been detected in Lake Erie water samples taken a year ago. They said the six positive hits among more than 400 samples they examined didn't necessarily mean the invasive fish have established a population in the lake. Natural resource departments in Michigan and Ohio are teaming with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take a closer look. Crews are collecting water this week in the Sandusky River and Bay and the Maumee River and Bay, in the same areas where the positive samples were taken in 2011. Next week, they will use electroshocking and netting to catch fish.

Juvenile lifers

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says hundreds of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for murder or complicity in a murder should not get re-sentencing hearings. Schuette says a U-S Supreme Court ruling that struck down Michigan’s mandatory life without parole law for juveniles should only apply to future cases. He has asked the state Supreme Court to limit the scope of the federal decision.
Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says if Schuette prevails, the effect would be catastrophic on people sent to prison as juveniles who were not given a fair shake by the system. Schuette says it’s not fair that murder victims’ families would have to return to court for re-sentencing hearings after they were assured their cases were over. 

Another search of a lake close to Lake Michigan has failed to find Asian Carp. The invasive carp could threaten native Great Lakes fish populations.

Fishermen spent three days last week sweeping a six mile stretch around Lake Calumet, near Chicago. The result: 6,300 fish caught, 30 different species, but no Bighead or Silver carp.

It’s the second time this year that teams led by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other agencies, have scoured the waterway looking for Asian carp.

A ball of white bread and 6-pound fishing line did this grass carp in.
user Catman529 / wikimedia

It's not one of the "Big Three" Asian Carp species that biologists worry could devastate an already struggling Great Lakes fishery (Bighead, Black, or Silver). But the Grass Carp is a species of Asian Carp officials are concerned about. The fish can damage native plant and fish habitat in lakes.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources plans to remove these illegal carp from a lake about 20 miles southeast of Jackson, Michigan.

Marrs Lake in Lenawee County is where officials previously said they found a grass carp. MDNR also plan to sample connected lakes (Washington, Wolf and Allen) for grass carp DNA to see whether the fish spread.

The grass carp was found during a June survey after a fisherman submitted a photo of one. During the survey, three other grass carp were spotted.

Illinois DNR

An intensive four day search for the invasive Asian Carp gets underway near Chicago tomorrow. The search area is a short swim from Lake Michigan.

user MirkoB / Wikimedia Commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Authorities plan another intensive search for Asian carp next week after repeatedly detecting DNA from the invasive fish in Chicago's Lake Calumet.

Officials said Friday that genetic material from silver carp was found in samples taken in May and June. Policy requires stepped-up efforts to find the fish whenever their DNA turns up during three consecutive rounds of sampling in the same area.

A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Update 3:12 p.m.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) Congress has approved a measure requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to quicken development of a strategy for keeping the Great Lakes free of Asian carp.

Corps officials said in May they would submit a report by the end of 2013, roughly the same time as required under the legislation. But officials said they would provide only a list of options for Congress and the public to consider.

The legislation instead requires specific steps for preventing species migrations at 18 potential entry points, including Chicago-area rivers and canals.

11:29 p.m.

A massive bill, covering everything from highway spending to student loan interest rates to flood insurance, is set to pass the U.S. House and Senate in a rare show of bipartisan deal-making.

And tucked into the legislation is an act that would make the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers speed up their research and planning aimed at keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) used his spot on a House and Senate negotiation committee to make sure the Stop Invasive Species Act was included as part of the larger law.

The act was introduced by Camp and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) earlier this year and would force the Corps of Engineers to draft a plan within 18 months---about a year ahead of the current schedule.

In a press release, Camp cast the Asian carp threat in both an environmental and economic light:

“Today Congress took an important step to stop Asian carp from devastating the Great Lakes ecosystem.  Over two years ago, a live Asian carp was found in Lake Calumet, less than six miles from Lake Michigan.  The responses so far have been temporary fixes when what we need is a permanent solution.  The Stop Invasive Species Act lays the groundwork to permanently protect our lakes and the $7 billion fishing industry and 800,000 jobs they support.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with blocking species transfer between the Great Lakes system and the Mississippi River.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Illinois DNR

Illinois officials are downplaying the recent discovery of Asian Carp DNA in a waterway a short distance from Lake Michigan.

Asian Carp are an invasive species that experts fear could devastate fish native to the Great Lakes.

user MirkoB / Wikimedia Commons

A survey recently conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed positive evidence for genetic material from silver carp in southwest Chicago. 

The May 22 test showed 17 positive identifications for the DNA of silver carp in 112 sites sampled in Lake Calumet and Little Calumet River through a process called "eDNA," or environmental DNA testing. The test involves filtering water samples for fragments of DNA shed by target species.

Genetic material left from carp tissue, mucus, feces or urine is not a certain indication of the presence of a live Asian carp; the DNA found in testing could have come from dead fish or water from another source.

Researchers also tested for bighead carp in the area, another species of Asian carp, though all results were negative. 

The AP reports:

Jared Teutsch, water policy advocate for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said in a statement Monday the findings mean "another year of worry" about Asian carp.

Bighead and silver carp were imported from Asia. They have migrated up the Mississippi River and its tributaries. An electric barrier is meant to block them.

Dozens of water samples taken beyond the barrier in recent years have contained Asian carp DNA, although just one actual carp has been found there.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Grass Carp
user Dezidor / Wikimedia Commons

Wildlife experts are searching a southern Michigan lake for illegal carp this week after a fisherman submitted a photo of a 3-foot-long grass carp, a species of Asian carp.

A crew traveled today to set up nets in Marrs Lake in Lenawee County, about 20 miles southeast of Jackson. Department of Natural Resources agency biologist Todd Kalish  says the crew plans to pull out the nets on Thursday to inventory what's found.

MDNR Fisheries Specialist Elizabeth Hay-Chmielewski traveled with that group today.  She says the grass carp is capable of disrupting a lake's ecosystem.

Grass carp
USGS

A man was charged with 12 felony counts for illegally selling live Asian carp in Michigan. And he wasn't too inconspicuous - "grass carp" was apparently written on the side of his truck.

From the Michigan DNR:

...the Attorney General's Criminal Division has charged an Arkansas man with 12 felony counts of possessing and selling live Asian carp in violation of state law protecting against the spread of invasive species. The charges follow a joint investigation by the DNR's Special Investigation Unit and Commercial Fish Enforcement Unit.

Grass carp are a type of Asian carp. Grass carp have been illegal to sell in Michigan for decades because the invasive species is a voracious plant eater.

Officials say grass carp "could potentially remove all vegetation from a body of water at the expense of native species."

The fish were imported in the 1960's and have been used to control weeds in ponds.

State officials say David Shane Costner, 42, of Harrisburg, Ark., had 110 grass carp housed in a semi-truck. Costner was working for Farley's Arkansas Pondstockers.

More from the MDNR:

Costner allegedly traveled around the state, conducting sales of the illegal carp from store parking lots. The trucks also contained live fish species permitted under state law, including channel catfish, largemouth bass and fathead minnows. On May 16, 2012, Costner allegedly sold two of the live grass carp to undercover DNR investigators in Midland, Mich.

David Eggert of MLive reports Costner's truck had the words "grass carp" written on the side.

The wildlife agency received a tip that Costner had been selling illegal carp at several locations in southern Michigan and the west side of the state, Golder said... Costner could not be reached for comment. A secretary who answered the phone at Farley's said he no longer works there.

Grass carp are just one of four species of Asian Carp officials are worried about. And Grass carp appear to be the least of their worries when it comes to threats to the Great Lakes.

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee lists three Asian Carp that are of concern - Grass carp are not on the list:

There are three species of Asian carp that are considered invasive and a threat to the Great Lakes: the bighead, silver and black carp. Silver and bighead carp are filter-feeding fish and consume plant and animal plankton. Asian carp can grow to large sizes: some as large as 110 pounds, though the average size is around 30-40 pounds. Bighead and silver carp are voracious eaters, capable of eating 5-20 percent of their body weight each day. They consume plankton—algae and other microscopic organisms—stripping the food web of the key source of food for small and big fish. Black carp differ in that they consume primarily mollusks, and threaten native mussel and sturgeon populations. They can grow to seven feet in length and over 100 pounds.

Asian carp at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.
Kate Gardiner / Creative Commons

The federal government says it will speed up a decision on how to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species in the Mississippi River basin. The Obama administration announced the new timetable Tuesday.

Asian carp leaping out of a river.
glfc.org

Last month, we spoke with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) about plans about a permanent solution for keeping Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

“The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan to give us specific recommendations on how to separate the waters… The problem is they say they won’t have this done until 2015. And, so, what we’re trying to do is push them to get this done much quicker,” Stabenow explains.

Now, we hear about legislation introduced in Congress by Senator Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up their analysis.

More from the Associated Press:

Legislation introduced in Congress would force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a study of how to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes.

The corps has identified 18 locations where fish and other organisms could migrate between the lakes and other watersheds, including an artificial linkage between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin in the Chicago area.

Corps officials say they'll release their recommendations by late 2015.

Michigan's U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp say that isn't soon enough. They're sponsoring bills to require the corps to submit a progress report within 90 days of the legislation's enactment and a full plan within 18 months.

Scientists say Asian carp could starve out native Great Lakes fish.

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