Advancing Threat of Asian Carp
Attention is focused on the potential introduction of two Asian carp species – bighead and silver – into the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin through the Chicago Area Waterway System. Several bills were introduced in Congress to address this issue. Asian carp, considered an invasive species by the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, are a significant threat to the Great Lakes’ recreational fisheries. Carp populations have the potential to expand rapidly and change the ecosystem composition of the Great Lakes. This will significantly harm the $7 billion annual sportfishing economy in the Great Lakes region.
Asian carp escaped into the Mississippi River from southern aquaculture facilities in the early 1990s when the facilities were flooded. Steadily, the carp made their way northward, becoming the most abundant species in many areas of the Mississippi; out-competing native fish and causing severe hardship to the anglers who fish the river.
The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. Currently, the only barrier to prevent carp from entering Lake Michigan is an electric barrier along the canal. Recently however, an Asian carp was found beyond the electric barrier – just six miles from Lake Michigan and Asian carp DNA has been collected in Lake Erie, suggesting that they may have already entered the Great Lake system. Asian carp are voracious feeders and if allowed to enter the Great Lakes, they will quickly out-compete the forage base of valuable sport fish such as walleye, trout and salmon, creating the potential for large-scale ecosystem devastation.
On February 8, 2010, the governors of the Great Lakes states met with federal officials to discuss strategies to combat the spread of Asian carp in the Great Lakes. The strategy meeting resulted in a $78.5 million plan to further restrict the movement of Asian carp. The efforts include nearly $24 million for construction of two additional electric fish barriers and $5 million for chemical treatments. The plan also calls for researching additional ways to control the expansion of Asian carp, such as sonic barriers, as well as a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ study on permanently closing the locks in the Chicago canal.
On December 14, 2010 President Obama signed the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act (S. 1421) into law. The bill, which was sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on November 17, 2010 and approved in the House of Representatives on December 1, 2010. This legislation lists the bighead carp as an invasive species under the Lacey Act, prohibiting the interstate transportation or importation of live bighead carp without a permit.
In July 2012, President Obama signed the Stop Asian Carp Act (S. 2317 and H.R. 4406), as a part of the larger Transportation Bill. The bill was sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and required the Army Corps of Engineers, within eighteen months, to prepare an action plan to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. On January 6, 2014, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) released their “Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study” which outlines eight alternatives to control the spread of invasive species. The alternatives range from a business-as-usual option, to chemical control and educational programs, to physical barriers which would with the Chicago Area Water System, to hydrologically separating the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, these options could take as long as twenty five years and cost upwards of eighteen billion dollars.
The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, with the help of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, released a major, peer-reviewed study in July, assessing the potential risk of Asian carp to the Great Lakes. The study concluded that that a small number of Asian carp can establish a population, and if Asian carp do become established in the Great Lakes, their impact would be severe. Suitable habitat exists in all five Great Lakes, though Lakes Erie and Ontario, and many embayments throughout the system, would be particularly hard-hit.
In early 2013, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) introduced the Strategic Response to Asian Carp Invasion Act in both chambers of Congress (S.125 and H.R. 358). These bills direct the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Geological Survey to act together and lead an effort to slow the spread of Asian Carp. ASA continues to monitor and support these bills.
The Sportfishing Industry’s Efforts
The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) has been involved in aquatic invasive species issues for many years, including numerous written and oral communications with the Executive and Legislative branches about the importance of taking specific and timely steps to control Asian carp. In addition to commenting on and supporting various bills in Congress, ASA has worked with the Department of Interior to assure that actions available to the Department are taken in a timely manner. ASA has advocated for appropriations for the electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary Canal since it was proposed and has supported all efforts to minimize the threat that Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes system.
ASA spoke in support of legislation to control Asian Carp before both the House Natural Resources Committee in November 2005 and the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works’ Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife in December 2009.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources held an Asian carp fishing tournament in March 2013 to try and curb populations within state waters. Carp Madness was held on Kentucky and Barkley lakes, over two days commercial fishing boats caught 42 tons of carp.