EDITORIAL: Money needed to keep Asian
carp from Great Lakes
Rockford Register Star
Published August 29, 2006
How would you like to get hit in the face by a 20-pound
fish while you were boating or water skiing? Doesn’t sound
very appealing, although a video of a Peoria man getting
hit in the face by a jumping fish was worth $10,000 last
year on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
The spread of Asian carp in Midwestern waters would be
funny if it weren’t so serious. These ugly fish are destroying
our rivers, disrupting recreational boaters and skiers,
and ruining the way of life for commercial and sport fishermen.
They must be stopped, especially from entering the Great
Lakes. The Great Lakes account for 90 percent of the surface
freshwater in the United States and need to be spared
from another invasive species that would damage their
Congress needs to approve financing that would make permanent
one barrier and complete construction of a second barrier
that helps keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan and the
rest of the Great Lakes.
Asian carp are a family of fish that includes bighead
carp, silver carp, grass carp and black carp. The fish
were imported from China in the 1970s by catfish farmers
in the South to control algae and snails in their ponds.
The fish were washed out of those farms and into the
Mississippi River during floods in the 1980s. From the
Mississippi they’ve made their way into the Illinois,
Missouri and other rivers. The Rock River has been unaffected
so far, although there have been a couple of reports of
fishermen catching bighead carp.
These fish get big in a hurry by consuming about 40 percent
of their body weight in plankton in a day. Their voracious
appetites limit food supplies for other fish and wind
up driving out native species. China once had more than
400 diverse species of fish. Asian carp have driven out
more than 150 species and made an additional 150 species
rare. The same could happen in the U.S. if the carp are
They have no natural predators. They grow so fast, they
quickly become too large to be eaten by any other fish.
They are so hearty that chemicals and shocking affect
them less than other fish. They reproduce in such great
numbers — one female may lay 1 million to 4 million eggs
— that there are too many to deal with.
Boat motors literally make these fish jumpy. Flying fish
have injured boaters and skiers, and authorities say it’s
inevitable that someone will be killed. Some boaters wear
helmets when they are on the water, and companies are
trying to sell cages that could be put on boats to protect
Emergency funding to keep a barrier operating in the
Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, which flows into Lake
Michigan, was approved this summer, but about $20 million
is needed to upgrade that barrier and finish a second.
The first barrier was authorized in 1996 under the National
Invasive Species Act to prevent non-native species from
entering the Great Lakes and threatening its $4.1 billion
sport and commercial fishing industry. In the 10 years
since the first barrier was put in place, Asian carp have
taken over waterways. Some estimates say Asian carp make
up 70 percent of the fish population of the Illinois River.
Money for the barriers is part of the Water Resources
Development Act. There are differences in the House and
Senate versions of the act that have to be reconciled.
A spokeswoman for Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said the senator
hopes that will happen when Congress reconvenes in September.
Once the act passes, an appropriations bill would then
be needed to get the money. Durbin is a member of the
Senate Appropriations Committee, so he is in a good position
to help secure those funds once they are authorized.
We’re sure Durbin will remind his colleagues than Asian
carp are not just an Illinois problem. So far, 14 states
have been affected by these fish, and more states will
be if the fish go unchecked.
Scientists from around the world gathered in Peoria last
week to discuss how to deal with Asian carp. They had
more questions than answers, but one thing was clear:
These fish are an environmental disaster that must be
Financing permanent barriers to stop their progress would
be a good step.