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.

USGS

This post has been updated with more details and comments from AG's office. 

Shipping locks in Chicago-area waterways will not be closed while a lawsuit over how to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes is pending. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the injunction Monday.

U.S. Coast Guard

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - The Obama administration plans to spend $51.5 million this year in its continuing battle to protect the Great Lakes from destructive Asian carp.

Federal officials announced their carp strategy for 2012 on Thursday. It includes first-time water sampling to determine whether bighead and silver carp have reached vulnerable sections of Lakes Michigan, Erie and Huron.

Other planned measures include stepped-up netting and trapping of Asian carp in the Illinois River. Also high-tech monitoring to determine if an electric barrier near Chicago is adequately blocking the carp's path to Lake Michigan.

Authorities also plan field tests of an acoustic underwater gun that could scare carp away and pheromones to lure them to places where they could be captured.

The Obama administration will spend about $50 million this year on protecting the Great Lakes from greedy Asian carp, including first-time testing to see if the fish have reached Lakes Michigan and Erie.

Federal officials tell The Associated Press the government has updated its strategy for battling bighead and silver carp that have infested the Mississippi River watershed and are closing in on the Great Lakes.

Scientists say if the carp take hold in the lakes, they could threaten the $7 billion fishing industry by gobbling up plankton at the base of the food web.

Among new initiatives will be searching southern Lake Michigan and western Lake Erie for signs of carp DNA.

Also planned is stepped-up trapping and netting to remove Asian carp from tributary rivers.

Great Lakes Commission

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades.

A coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors says the solution is to physically separate the Great Lakes basin from the Mississippi River system forever. In other words... they want to completely stop the flow of water between the two systems to permanently block carp from swimming up into Lake Michigan... and stop any kind of invaders from moving between the basins.

A new report out today outlines how that massive separation might happen.

Tim Eder is the executive director of the Great Lakes Commission. His group put out the report, along with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. The report identifies three different places on the Chicago waterway system where a physical separation could be put in place.

“It’s just putting some sheet piling, some metal and earth and concrete in the river to make a dam, basically.”

But the manmade system of canals in the Chicago area has been in place for a century (it was originally put in place to reverse the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan because untreated sewage was being dumped in the lake and making people sick - and even killing them).

Eder says there are a lot of people who depend on the waterway system as it is now.

“The river in Chicago now serves some really important purposes for managing floodwaters, for dealing with wastewater, and for transportation. Commercial transportation depends on that waterway, so our options propose solutions to maintain and even enhance all of those existing important uses of the waterway.”

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Bighead and silver carp are the species people are the most concerned about.

There’s been a lot of focus on keeping carp out of Lake Michigan.

But a new study finds carp might do well in Lake Erie and some of the rivers that feed the lake.

Patrick Kocovsky is a research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He says it’s believed Asian carp need specific conditions to make babies.

“What’s currently believed is Asian carp require some kind of flood event in a tributary.”

He says the carp need just the right temperature... a river that’s flowing fast enough and a stretch of river long enough to reproduce.

Kocovsky and his team studied the major tributaries of Lake Erie. They found that the Maumee River is highly suitable for Asian carp to lay eggs.

The researchers found the Sandusky and Grand Rivers to be moderately suitable for carp.

Patrick Kocovsky says if carp can get into Lake Erie, the western side of the lake is likely to be the most hospitable.

The U.S. House has approved a bill that would set a national policy for cleansing ship ballast water to kill invasive species while prohibiting states from imposing tougher requirements.

The measure that passed the Republican-controlled chamber Tuesday would adopt an international standard limiting the number of live organisms in ballast water. Vessel operators would have to install technology to comply.

The shipping industry says an existing patchwork of more than two dozen state and tribal policies is unworkable because vessels move constantly from one jurisdiction to another. New York rules scheduled to take effect in 2013 would be 100 times tougher than the House standards.

Environmentalists say the House measure isn't strong enough to prevent more invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes. They say they hope to derail it in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

US Supreme Court

Five Great Lakes states are waiting to find out if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case calling for more decisive measures to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania filed the request this week.

The states want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to quickly wrap up its study of how to keep Asian carp from escaping the Mississippi River system through Chicago-area shipping canals. The corps is one of the main agencies responsible for the locks.

John Sellek is the spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

“What we really want is to have the Army Corps of Engineers speed up their study,” said Sellek.

“They are taking up to five years or longer to look at this and every minute that goes by could be another fish that’s getting through those canals in Chicago, so what we’re requesting is they speed that up to 18 months at the longest.”

The Great Lakes states also want the high court to order the corps to string nets across smaller waterways that could be escape points for the carp.

At the same time, Michigan and 17 states along the Great Lakes or the Mississippi want a total physical separation of the water systems.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Bighead and silver carp are the species people are the most concerned about.

Government officials are trying to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan. One of the main methods they’re using is electrical shock. There’s a man-made canal near Chicago that connects the Mississippi River system with Lake Michigan. And on that canal is a system of three underwater electric barriers built by the Army Corps of Engineers.

I recently had a chance to visit the electric barriers. You can’t see the actual barriers, because the electrodes are underwater. But the Army Corps invited me into the control room of Barrier 2B. It looks about like you’d guess – lots of computers and gauges. There are a couple large mounted Asian carp on the shelves.

Chuck Shea is a project manager with the Army Corps.

He says the barriers repel fish by emitting very rapid electric pulses into the water... which, if you’re a fish, is not a whole lot of fun.

“The idea is, as a fish swims in, the further it goes it’s getting a bigger and bigger shock and it realizes going forward is bad, it’s uncomfortable, and it turns around and goes out of its own free will and heads back downstream.”

The electric bill for this barrier runs between $40,000 and $60,000 a month.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Two species of Asian carp, bighead and silver carp, have been swimming their way north toward the Great Lakes for decades. A lot of people are trying to keep the carp out of the Lakes.

Yesterday, attorneys general from around the country announced they’re putting more pressure on Congress to speed up action on Asian carp.

Some people think one solution is to create a market for the fish.

There are a couple of companies working to sell Asian carp to China... where the fish are considered a delicacy.

But winning over the American palate is much harder. Carp have a bit of an image problem... and they are full of bones.

“We are spoiled here, we like convenience. Everybody expects to have fish without bones, right? And that’s the issue.”

This is Chef Phillipe Parola. He’s from Baton Rouge and he wants you to learn to love Asian carp.

Parola is one of the chefs who tried to get Americans to eat nutria. Nutria look like oversized rats. So that didn’t go over so well.

Two years ago, Chef Parola found his new calling. He was out fishing in Louisiana, where the Asian carp are thick.

“With ten minutes, this fish started jumping everywhere. I’m like, what in the heck! Two of them, one after the other, landed right at my feet.”

He kept the giant carp, put them on ice, and took them home.

“To my surprise, when I saw the meat, as a professional chef, I knew right on that there’s no way that this fish could be bad, literally. When I went and cooked it, I'm going to tell you, it tasted between scallops and crab meat, there is no doubt.”

(courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Michigan’s tourism and fishing industries will discuss how to form a united front against Asian carp during a conference Tuesday in Lansing.  John Goss, the Obama Administration’s "carp czar," will be the keynote speaker at the  conference.  

Asian carp present a threat to the Great Lakes’ multi-billion dollar sport fishing and tourism industries, according to Steve Yencich, president of the Tourism Industries Coalition of Michigan.  The coalition is organizing the carp summit.   

Petty Officer Bill Colclough / U.S. Coast Guard

Officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District say they plan to pump up the electricity at their fish dispersal barrier along the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. The increase is intended to repel smaller fish.

From the U.S. ACOE's statement:

While extensive research and monitoring indicate that small Asian carp currently are not currently within the vicinity of the fish barrier, and all field telemetry research indicates the barrier is highly effective, the Corps is taking this conservative approach to operating the electrical dispersal barrier out of an abundance of caution.

Corps officials say they'll turn up the power "later this fall."

In the statement, Corps officials say they have an aggressive monitoring program and have tracked nearly "1.9 million detections of tagged fish in the barrier area, with no indication of tagged fish having crossed any of the electric barriers in the upstream direction."

Environmental DNA (eDNA) evidence was found above the barrier leading some to wonder whether the fish are establishing themselves in waters close to the Great Lakes.

Officials at the Corps say while DNA testing has some advantages, but "eDNA does not provide conclusive proof of the physical presence of live fish."

Photo by Lester Graham

We've been spending the past couple months going on fishing trips, and talking to people who fish for fun and for a living... to bring you stories about everything you never knew you wanted to know about fish and fishing in the Great Lakes.

Today, you can hear the result of our effort in a special one-hour documentary we're calling Swimming Upstream.

We'll tag along on a salmon fishing trip with Lester Graham, go on an Asian carp rodeo on the Illinois River, meet commercial fishers (both tribal and non-tribal), and go fishing with Dustin Dwyer as he gets into the mind of a fish.

We think of the Lakes today as a great place to play on the beach, to swim, to go fishing. But those huge, beautiful lakes are changing.

The changes are happening so fast that the agencies which manage fishing cannot keep up with them.

On average, a new foreign species gets into the Lakes every seven months. Each could be a threat to the lakes and the fish in the lakes. We explore the health and future of the Great Lakes, and hear stories about fish and the people who catch them.

Listen to it here:

Or tune in today at 1pm and 8pm on Michigan Radio to hear Swimming Upstream and let us know what you think.

Find out more about fish consumption advisories: in Michigan,  in Ohio, in Wisconsin, in New York, and in Illinois.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

Attorneys general in the Great Lakes region want a multi-state campaign to cut an artificial link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds that provides a pathway for invasive species.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the attorneys general invite their counterparts in 27 other states to pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for quicker action.

The Corps is studying whether to separate the drainage basins in the Chicago area, where they were joined more than a century ago by construction of a canal. Zebra and quagga mussels have used the waterway to invade states farther south, and the Asian carp is threatening to migrate into the Great Lakes.

The Corps report is due in 2015. The letter demands a faster timetable.

A federal appeals panel has rejected a request by five Great Lakes states for an immediate order to close shipping locks on Chicago-area waterways and take other steps to prevent Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan. 

The three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday against the request by Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  The states were appealing a decision by a federal district judge in Chicago last December. 

(courtesy of the Illins Department of Natural Resources)

State and federal wildlife officials say their latest search has turned up no Asian carp swimming in an Illinois lake close to Lake Michigan, though they admit they can’t say there are no carp in the lake. 

“We’re saying if there are fish there…they’re there in very low abundances," says Kevin Irons,  the head of the state of Illinois’ office of Nuisance Aquatic Life.   He says no Asian carp were found during a recent four day search of Lake Calumet.   Carp DNA was found in the lake recently.  

Kate Gardiner / Creative Commons

Crews in Chicago are on the hunt for Asian carp this week. The term Asian carp refers to two species: bighead and silver carp. The crews are looking for the carp in Lake Calumet, which is linked by a river to Lake Michigan. Asian carp have been found in the rivers that feed into Lake Michigan from Illinois.

John Rogner is the assistant director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He says they’re looking for live carp after finding carp DNA in Lake Calumet.

He says it could mean there are live Asian carp in the lake.

“But there are some other possibilities. One is that there is DNA that comes upstream from downriver from boat hulls; it might be coming from restaurants in parts of Chicago that come out through the storm sewers.”

Some restaurants in the city serve Asian carp, so waste water could contain DNA from the fish. Rogner says people could also be releasing live carp into the lake, even though that’s illegal.

He says so far this week, they have not found any live bighead or silver carp in Lake Calumet.

USACOE

There is new evidence that Asian carp may have slipped past electric barriers in Chicago-area waterways. The barriers are meant to keep the fish from reaching the Great Lakes.

The news has launched a new wave of arguments over the threat posed by the invasive species.

The Army Corps of Engineers turned up nine positive tests for Asian carp DNA out of hundreds taken from Chicago-area waterways.

Federal officials say that’s not proof the invasive species is getting closer to Lake Michigan, or that it poses an imminent threat of infesting the Great Lakes.

The state of Michigan is suing the federal government to get the shipping locks shut down as an emergency precaution.

John Sellek is with the Michigan Attorney General’s office. He says there is a growing body of evidence that the threat exists.

“How many more warnings do we need at this point that that impending tragedy is coming? The time for studying is over. It’s time to take action.”

The state is appealing a judge’s refusal to close the Chicago shipping locks while the Army studies ways to permanently ensure Asian carp don’t become a Great Lakes problem.

USFWS

Scientists have been testing the water in the channels and rivers above an electric barrier desiged to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

They've found DNA evidence of the carp in Lake Calumet in the past. Now they've found more.

From the Associated Press:

Scientists have turned up more genetic evidence of Asian carp above an electric barrier designed to keep them from invading the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week reported that nine water samples taken in May and June from Chicago-area waterways contained DNA from silver carp, one of two Asian species threatening to enter the lakes after migrating northward in the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Hundreds of other samples had no carp DNA. But environmentalists say the latest findings show the electric barrier isn't enough to protect the Great Lakes. They want to sever the link between the lakes and the Mississippi basin near Chicago.

The federal government's Asian carp program coordinator said Thursday there's no evidence the fish are getting through the barrier.

DNA evidence can be a sign that Asian carp are in the water, but not necessarily so. It could just be that Asian carp scales or mucus are in suspension in the water column in that area.

Though one researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey says you're much more likely to find the DNA evidence before you find any fish:

"These fish are remarkably cryptic. They are very sensitive to nets and boats. They are not caught by accident by guys with rods and reels."

By the time Asian carp make themselves known, they tend to be breeding and well-established, he said.

"It's typical for a species to putter along at a barely noticeable level for several generations... but when you get the density high enough, you are definitely going to start noticing them."

Jerde et al.

The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin are connected, but it's an artificial connection.

Around the turn of the last century canals and channels were dug that reversed the flow of water.

Waters that used to flow into Lake Michigan now flow into the Des Plaines River and eventually into the Mississippi.

The reversal was a way of separating Chicago's sewage from its drinking water supply.

And with more than 2 billion gallons of water a day flowing out of Lake Michigan, it's the largest diversion of Great Lakes water.

Undoing what was done around a hundred years ago has been considered crazy talk because of the expense involved, but some scientists are now embracing that idea.

In a new paper released in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, four lead scientists (Jerry Rasmussen, Henry Regier, Richard Sparks, and William Taylor) argue that the costs of permanent separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin are worth it.

flickr Kate Gardiner

Federal and state officials have a new plan for dealing with the threat of Asian Carp invading Lake Michigan.    There are fears that the carp may destroy the Great Lakes fishing industry. 

The plan includes stepping up tracking of the invasive fish species and contracting with Illinois fishermen to catch the carp before they can reach Lake Michigan.

asiancap.org

 TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Federal and state officials are beginning a series of projects to pinpoint how close Asian carp are to the Great Lakes and reduce their numbers in Chicago-area waterways near Lake Michigan.

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee released a $7 million monitoring and sampling plan Monday.

It uses a variety of techniques to determine how many of the invasive fish are in the Chicago waters, remove as many as possible, and detect any flaws in an electric barrier designed to block their path to Lake Michigan.

In addition to netting and electrofishing, officials say they'll add new tools, including an underwater camera that can help determine whether fish are getting through the barrier.

Biologists say if Asian carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could starve out other species.

Carping Criticism

Mar 17, 2011

Remember the Asian carp, which migrated up the Mississippi, into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and which experts feared were about to get into Lake Michigan?

That’s where things stood when I first talked about this issue here more than fifteen months ago. Since then, traces of carp DNA has been found in Lake Michigan, though there is no evidence that a permanent breeding population has been established there.

(Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources)

The Obama Administration’s point man on the Asian Carp crisis says there’s no way to speed up the efforts to permanently keep the invasive fish from reaching the Great Lakes.

The Asian Carp have destroyed native fish populations in the Mississippi River and have swum within a few miles of Lake Michigan.  There are concerns that if Asian Carp enter the Great Lakes ecosystem, they will overwhelm and destroy the region's multi-billion dollar fishing industry.

Several members of Congress want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up their 5 year review of possible action plans to stop the carp. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says time is important.

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years…we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible.”   

But Obama Administration Carp Czar John Goss says the 18 month schedule proposed by members of Congress is not enough time. 

 “Realistically I think it’s going to take substantially longer than that to get the right solution in the long term.”

Major General John Peabody is the commander of the Corps of Engineers ‘Great Lakes & Ohio River’ Division. He says finding a solution will take more than 18 months. 

“I never say never, because you don’t know what you don’t know about the future.   But in our judgment it’s not possible because of the complexity of the situation.”

The president’s top people on the Asian Carp crisis held a public hearing today in Ypsilanti.

LouisvilleUSACE / Flickr

John Goss, the Obama Administration's so-called "Asian carp Czar" will be in Ypsilanti, Michigan today. Goss, along with federal officials from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, will discuss long-term strategy for keeping the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The Associated Press reports:

The Army Corps is conducting a study of how to stop migrations of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. One option is separating the man-made linkage between the two watersheds in the Chicago area.

The study is scheduled for completion 2015. Legislation introduced in Congress last week calls for a quicker timetable.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

Update 2:50 p.m.:

Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region say it’s taking too long to come up with an action plan to stop the spread of Asian Carp. They are now calling for work on that plan to speed up. 

Asian Carp have spent the past few decades slowly spreading throughout the Mississippi River watershed.   The invasive carp have destroyed indigenous fish populations from Missouri to Illinois.   One was caught last year just a few miles downstream from Lake Michigan. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes.   Not fast enough for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years…we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible.”  

Recently, Illinois politicians have fought efforts to close canals linking Lake Michigan to carp infested waters near Chicago.   But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin supports expediting a carp action plan, making its passage more probable.   Though Durbin’s involvement also hints closing canals will not be part of the plan.  

 Stabenow  says she doesn’t know how much it will cost to ‘separate’ the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed.    But she says Asian Carp could cost the economy of the Great Lakes billions of dollars if they are not stopped.   

11:01 a.m.:

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp plan to introduce legislation to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through Chicago-area waterways, the Associated Press reports. Stabenow and Camp will hold a news conference today to discuss their plans. The AP reports:

Stabenow and Camp previously sponsored bills that would have forced closure of shipping locks near Chicago that could provide access to Lake Michigan for the invasive carp. Those measures failed.

The House recently rejected Camp's effort to attach a lock closure amendment to a federal spending bill.

Michigan and four other states are suing in federal court to close the locks. Chicago business interests say doing so would damage their local economy and probably wouldn't do much to stop the carp anyway.

Michigan congressman Dave Camp had hoped he could cut off federal funding to reopen the Chicago Sanitary Canal.  The canal could be the main path of Asian Carp may take from the Mississippi River watershed to Lake Michigan.   The Associated Press reports last night's vote wasn't close: 

michiganoutofdoors.com

U.S.  Representative Dave Camp of Midland is trying a new approach to keep invasive Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

He  wants to ban the use of federal funds to open Chicago-area shipping locks. Camp says the Great Lakes ecosystem is far too valuable to jeopardize.

And he’s not willing to wait for the Army Corps of engineers to come up with new recommendations to prevent the spread of the fish.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

John Goss, the Obama administration's so-called 'Asian carp czar,' was in Traverse City yesterday to talk about how the federal government is trying to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Goss said the government is moving as fast as possible to keep the species out of the Lakes. There's concern that if the carp made their way into the Great Lakes it would devastate the waters' ecosystem.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

Want to hear how the federal government plans to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes? Well, now's the time. John Goss, the Obama administration's point man in the fight against Asian carp, will be part of a federal delegation visiting Traverse City today for back-to-back public meetings.

The Associated Press reports:

The officials will outline their strategy and take comments on a long-range study of how to prevent the carp and other invasive species from migrating between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Environmentalists, Michigan and four other Great Lakes states want to sever the man-made link between the two aquatic systems. The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting the study and says that's one option.

Activists also say the study's planned completion date of 2015 isn't soon enough.

There's concern that if the Asian carp make their way into the Great Lakes that they could wreak havoc on the lakes' eco-systems.

Silver carp jump behind a motor boat
USFWS

The Obama Administration announced it will dedicate more resources to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

Today, a coordinated group of state and federal agencies released the 2011 Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework.

In it the group calls for increased monitoring and further study on the pathways carp can use to get into the Lakes.

The Detroit Free Press reports the framework calls for:

$47 million worth of new projects... to combat Asian carp and prevent their spread to the Great Lakes. The new work includes a new laboratory in Wisconsin that will do increased DNA sampling for Asian carp around the lakes, aiming to take 120 samples per week.

The additional money is expected to come from money that was originally allocated from other Great Lakes clean-up projects.

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