Right now Asian carp are moving up river towards the Great Lakes. They were first brought here in the 1970s to take care of the algae problem in southern catfish farms. But the invasive species broke out of those farms with the help of flooding and now pose a great ecological threat.
Preventing a big problem
Why? Because Asian carp like to eat -- a lot. They eat eggs, they eat plankton, they eat a number of things that native fish need to survive. On top of that, they rapidly multiply, easily out-reproducing other species.
“And we’re just very concerned that if they were to get into the Great Lakes that they could damage the ecosystem and potentially decimate the native population of fish and all the economic benefits and other environmental benefits provided by those native fish populations,” says Matt Doss with the Great Lakes Commission.
The group collaborates with other organizations and states to secure and protect the Great Lakes.
Not here yet
It is important to note that Asian carp has not been found breeding in the Great Lakes yet. So the commission’s main tactic in the fight against Asian carp is to defend all pathways to the Great Lakes.
“By far the biggest and highest risk pathway for carp getting into the Great Lakes is the Chicago-area waterway system and this is an artificial connection between the Mississippi River watershed and the Great Lakes,” Doss says.
If the Asian carp can infiltrate Lake Michigan through this waterway system, then Doss says it is very likely the invasive species will spread to all the Great Lakes, including Lake Erie.
That's why Doss says it is vital to come up with a long-term solution to protecting the border. The plan is to use hydrologic separation.
“That is to permanently stop the free flow of water between the two watersheds to provide a permanent separation between those watersheds to keep these carp from getting into the Great Lakes,” Doss says.
But the plan is controversial. The Chicago-area depends on the waterway system for services, including water treatment. Doss says the commission has found a way to cut off the waterway without drastically impacting those services.
A danger to humans
Dozens of Asian carp can fly out of the water and smack into a boat when it passes through. Boat motors easily startle the fish.
Doss says jumpy fish is not just a nuisance but a serious safety concern. The fish weighing 20 to 40 pounds and can catapult out of the water.
“So you so this footage of just hundreds and hundreds of fish rapidly and violently jumping out of the water and in parts of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, " Doss says. "This is so common they jump into boats. They hit boaters who are moving down the waterway.”
There are reports that flying Asian carp have caused black eyes and broken jaws.
As of now, the Great Lakes Commission and several other public and private entities, including the state of Ohio, are continually evaluating to determine the best way to protect waterways from this invasive fish.