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
Kate.Gardner/Flickr

There's a new federal law that bans bringing bighead carp into the U.S. The bighead carp is among the Asian carp species that threatens the ecosystem of the Great Lakes.

President Obama signed the bill known as  The Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act yesterday. The Associated Press reports that the measure:

...adds bighead carp to a list of wildlife that cannot be imported or taken across state lines. The only exceptions would be for scientific, medical or educational purposes and would require a permit. Bighead and silver carp have infested waterways in the Chicago area. Authorities are trying to prevent them from getting into the Great Lakes, where they would compete with native fish for food.

The bill was written by Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin and sponsored by Michigan's other Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Current distribution of the Bighead Carp
USGS

Update December 3rd 5:13 pm:

Marc Gaden of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission says "as far as I know, no one thinks there are any Asian Carp in Lake Erie." He says Lake Erie is colored red in the USGS map above because two Bighead carp were found in commercial fishman's nets several years ago. They colored the entire Lake red based on these two incidents.

December 1st 5:27 pm:

The state of Michigan has suffered another legal setback in its effort to keep Asian Carp from reaching the Great Lakes.  

A federal judge in Chicago has denied a request by Michigan and several other states to order the closure of canals which link Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River basin. Asian Carp are a voracious invasive species.  The carp have devastated Mississippi River fish populations.  

“The court agreed that Asian Carp are indeed a threat," says Joy Yearout,  a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, '"But the judge also ruled the actions the federal government has taken over the last several months prove they are addressing the threat enough to make it not immediate enough to require a court order."

Federal agencies have stepped up construction of electric barriers to keep Asian Carp from passing into Lake Michigan.  Other methods are also being studied. 

The states may continue their legal fight.  They are also asking President Obama to order the canals closed.

Carp caught in Lake Calumet
USFWS

The Associated Press reports that The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is giving $500,000 to the Great Lakes Commission to help it find ways to stop the invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

The fish started make their way up the Mississippi River system more than ten years ago after they escaped from fish farm ponds in the south. They were imported to control parasites in the ponds. 

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