The Carp Are Closing In

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services official holds up an Asian Carp caught in a connecting channel to the Great Lakes near Chicago, Illinois.© U.S. Fish & Wildlife

Great Lakes officials are calling for government intervention as Asian Carp have been found in the Wabash River which leads to Lake Erie. Another live carp was found in the Chicago area waterway system in late June—just outside Lake Michigan. If left ignored, the spawning population of invasive, voracious fish could drastically affect the natural habitat of the Great Lakes and prove disastrous for local fishing industries. Asian Carp, first imported by catfish farmers in the 1970s to remove algae from their ponds, can weigh up to 100 pounds, and can grow to a length of more than four feet. Released into the Mississippi River basin, the carp have been making their way northward up the Mississippi, becoming, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "the most abundant species in some areas of the river."

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee announced findings of the carp population downstream in the Wabash River, which leads to the Maumee River and Lake Erie. Despite locks and electric barriers meant to keep the invasive species from entering the Great Lakes, certain fish have made it through. If they begin to spawn, their invasive presence would dominate smaller fish currently residing in the area. Specialists cite Lake Erie as the perfect breeding ground for the Asian Carp.

The Lake Erie fishing industry accounts for about 80% of the total value of Ontario’s Great Lakes commercial fishery. The Lake Erie billion-dollar fishing industry trumps that of the other four Great Lakes combined. This places Lake Erie as the most valuable freshwater fishery in the world.

Coalition leaders are calling upon the federal government to take swift, immediate action. "We’re being outmaneuvered by a fish and can’t afford to play catch up," said Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. "We need leadership to anticipate, align and activate on where the carp are going to be—not where they’ve already been."

Legislation introduced Wednesday calls on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to permanently sever the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes basins, now believed to be the only permanent solution to keeping Asian carp out of Lake Erie.

Sources: Alliance for the Great Lakes; EPA Asian Carp Page; New York Times.