Would the ecosystem within and surrounding the Great Lakes be at risk if Asian carp were to reach the Great Lakes? This question has been evaluated by scientists for several years now. Asian carp have been known to overwhelm waterways and put native species at risk. Evaluating Asian carp and determining if they are an issue, how the Great Lakes would be affected, and ways to control them are looked at daily by different agencies. As Asian carp are found to be closer to these lakes, there must be urgency in determining what the impact would be if the Asian carp were to reach these waterways.
WHAT ARE ASIAN CARP?
Asian Carp consists of any species of fish belonging to the carp family. The species originated in eastern Asia in the areas of China and Russia but has been found in the United States and European waterways. Carp are a rapidly growing fish that may live up to 40 years and the spring is usually the spawning period for the carp.
The four main types of carp that are in U.S. waterways are the common carp, the black carp, the silver carp and the bighead carp. The carp are a very invasive species that can create problems within an aquatic ecosystem by eliminating an essential food source such as plankton. These fish can become a major problem to an ecosystem and native species if they are not controlled properly.
HOW DID THE ISSUE DEVELOP?
According the United States Geological Survey, “Asian Carp were imported to the United States in the 1970s as a method to control nuisance algal blooms in wastewater treatment plants and aquaculture ponds as well as for human food.
” The carps that were being used for controls of the algal bloom escaped confinement and were introduced into the United States waterways. With the freedom from confinement and the rapid rate these fish reproduce, the species began to spread quickly.
WHERE IS THE ISSUE OCCURRING?
Carp species can be found in waterways throughout the United States, but the three main invasive species, the bighead, silver, and black carp are primarily located along the Mississippi river and its surrounding waterways including the Illinois River. The Illinois River has a direct pathway to the Great Lakes through Chicago giving the carp species a potential route into the Great Lakes ecosystem. This includes the Chicago Area Waterway System which is a 327-mile system that is a direct connection to Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River. The Chicago Area Waterway System is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers and is under great scrutiny to control the migration of carp to Lake Michigan. As the carp species moves closer to the Great Lakes, controls must be evaluated to verify if the migration of this species can be controlled.
IS A CARP POPULATION SUSTAINABLE IN THE GREAT LAKES?
John Goss, who formerly led the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, questioned whether the sensation with carp invading and overtaking waterways ecosystems was real or an internet sensation. Mr. Goss argues that when millions of viewers see hundreds of fish jumping and injuring people could create a sensationalized problem that may not truly exist. While Mr. Goss does not say they are not a problem, he believes for evidence is needed to justify the governmental spending. Others state that the evidence is overwhelmingly against the ability of the Great Lakes to sustain a strong ecosystem if the invasive Asian carp were to enter the Great Lakes system. Asian carp overwhelm ecosystems due to their large size and ability to reproduce multiple times within a year. The biggest concern involves how much an Asian carp can eat. As a large number of carp consume plankton, this can eliminate a vital food source for the native fish in the Great Lakes system. By eliminating the bottom of the food chain, this will eliminate most of the marine life in the Great Lakes creating an atmosphere for only the Asian carp to survive.
WAYS TO CONTROL CARP POPULATION AND MIGRATION
If the Asian carp population is not sustainable, then multiple options need to be looked at to determine how to control them. These methods are blocking, eating, trapping, poisoning, and hunting. Each of these methods are potentially controversial and the positives and negatives need to be evaluated before moving forward with any of these. Will utilizing these methods upset the ecosystems that the Asian carp now exist in? Will these methods upset the sustainability of the rivers and surrounding areas? These are questions that must be asked before choosing how to move forward.
The method of blocking is the most commonly discussed method for controlling the Asian carp. This method includes the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) and the canal locks controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. The CAWS has the ability to monitor and maintain the Carp population within its’ system. The first line of defense is a network of systems that would help prevent invasive species mitigating through the process of flooding. The second line of is an electric dispersal barrier which uses electric signals to deter fish from mitigating from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi and vice versa. A risk to this is that the electric dispersal barrier relies on electricity and power issues have caused this to be briefly ineffective at times.
To evaluate the ethics of this, the risk should be evaluated. Overall, the risk for this is low, but will run a high cost of maintaining and monitoring the fish population. Ethically, this would be the most reasonably method to be used and by monitoring the canal, would prevent low risk to the ecosystem along the Illinois and Chicago waterway systems. This may not be completely fool proof though as in 2009, an Asian carp was found upstream of the barrier systems towards Lake Michigan.
FISHING AND EATING
Allowing an open fishery on Asian carp could be a possible solution to controlling the population and helping to prevent the movement into the Great Lakes. The Asian carp is a typically lean protein fish and besides its’ bone structure, can be a typically clean fish to eat. The taste may not be enjoyed by all, but overall, this fish is more than capable of being served in a restaurant. By allowing the Asian carp to be fished openly, Illinois has been able to remove over 6.3 million pounds of Asian carp from the Illinois waterway. The efforts of this have helped protect the Great Lakes from the risk of Asian carp.
Ensuring the fish are taken ethically is crucial to ensure the safety and health of other fish in the Illinois waterways. This means that limits would need to be set for commercial fisherman and state game wardens would need to monitor to the waters to ensure native fish are not being taken along with the carp. If native fish are taken along with the Asian carp, the population of native fish would be affected dramatically. If regulations are put into place to monitor the fishing, it would drastically reduce the population of Asian carp and would protect the native fish in the waterways.
Another method that has been suggested and has been tested in laboratories with success is to lure and trap Asian carp in a controlled area. The United States Geological Survey teams have developed an algae attractant that Asian carp are highly attracted to while other native species have not been as attracted to. This attractant allows the USGS scientists to be able to lure the Asian carp to an area where they can deploy nets and other types of traps to remove a large number of carp easily. As this method is being performed by USGS scientists, they are ensuring that if native species are caught, they are being safely removed and returned to the waterways to protect those species.
USGS scientists have developed a toxic microparticle that is in the size range for Asian carp but is too big for most other native species in the areas known to hold Asian carp. The system is being tested in controlled environments to ensure native fish are not being harmed by the microparticle. To date, the toxin has shown that it will kill Asian carp, but it has not been found to harm large mouth bass or other fish that can eat a microparticle of that size.
This method is one of the more ethically questionable methods and will require a large amount of testing before being utilized in large scale applications within the water systems. Native species must be proven to be safe prior to distribution because a mistake could eliminate many native fishes upsetting the ecosystem. While this method may be effective, it must be evaluated, tested, and proven safe to ensure there are no unintended consequences.
The last method that will be discussed and is a rather interesting method for removal of Asian carp is allowing people to hunt Asian carp. The most common method used for Asian carp hunting is bowfishing. This involves either shooting the fish in the water or getting the Asian carp to begin jumping out of the water and attempting to shoot them while they are in the air. This presents many risks and could be questioned for ethics. Hunters must be able to clearly identify the type of fish they are hunting to ensure they do not shoot native species. Also, allowing hunters to shoot fish while jumping in the air requires a quick reaction time and could present safety issues to other people in the area. This method must be highly regulated and may be inefficient. Asian carp may multiply faster than people can hunt them making this system a risk that would not be worth taking.
While the evidence shows overwhelmingly that Asian carps in the Great Lakes would harm the ecosystem, many scientists will say that more information is needed to best identify the control methods needed to keep carp out of the Great Lakes. As the species has been found close to Lake Michigan, it is very important for our environmentalists to identify these best methods and put those controls in place as soon as possible. Ensuring the species is controlled ethically and in a method that will protect native fish is vital and must be the highest importance. Scientists must continue to evaluate the enormity of the situation and work with the government to ensure the right people are in place to tackle this issue.
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