Asian Carp Taking Over Lake Michigan

Asian carpUnited States officials are weighing up an $18 billion project to prevent giant Asian carp taking over Lake Michigan. The fish, which can grow to over a meter long, are displacing indigenous species.

The White House and Congress have commissioned US army engineers to find a solution as the carp have also started to launch themselves at passing boats. One idea that has been suggested is to obstruct the city of Chicago’s canal network. The rationale is that such a measure would contain the fish and cut off access to the Great Lakes. However, that measure is potentially costly. One other solution is to catch the jumping fish and eat them. It has been claimed that up to a dozen Asian carp can jump out of the water in unison. Some locals even support the idea of turning the carp into burgers. However, a local environment campaigner called Michael Beecham warned a public consultation that encountering the giant fish was disconcerting.

Nevertheless, precautionary measures have been carried out to protect people using Lake Michigan. The Illinois Natural History Survey Station has equipped its boats with nets, which have been fitted around the steering wheels and dashboards. The fish are capable of eating a fifth of their own body weight in plankton on a daily basis. There are also fears that the growing army of carp could have a negative impact on the lucrative fishing and tourism industry enjoyed by the Great Lakes. They are said to be worth $7 million a year. Electric fences were introduced a few years ago to keep the fish out, but the general consensus is that they have been ineffective to date.

The fish are native to the Far East and were brought to the US in the last century to aid the control of algae in the sewage treatment plants of the southern states. Although initially a popular import to the southern states, successive governments failed to control the numbers or even predict how fast the fish would multiply. The carp eventually escaped into the Mississippi and have since grown in number quite considerably. The increase in numbers have also put indigenous fish to the US under threat. Although no time frame has been confirmed, the problem could take 25 years to fix properly. The army engineers are also looking at other technological solutions to stop the Asian carp taking over Lake Michigan.

Although the problem is currently one for the US and Canada, many believe the proliferation of the carp means it could eventually become a global issue. As the carp outgrow a space, they escape to neighboring locations. In 2010, the Ontario government – along with the affected US states – filed a lawsuit in an US court to put an end to the dumping of the invasive species into the Great Lakes.

While the engineers come up with all sorts of technological idea to prevent Asian carp taking over Lake Michigan, the cost implication combined with the amount time it will take to implement the eventual solution means there is no easy fix.

By Robert Shepherd