Corps of Engineers vs. carp: The fight
for the Great Lakes
By John C. Kuehner
Plain Dealer News
Published May 13, 2004
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is finishing plans to
build a $6.7 million electric fence in the Chicago Sanitary
and Ship Canal to stop the hungry, bottom-feeding fish
from entering Lake Michigan.
If Asian carp crossed into the Great Lakes, they would
pose a greater threat to Lake Erie than any of the other
invasive species so far because they could devastate the
perch and walleye fish populations, said Jeff Reutter,
an aquatic nuisance species expert with the Ohio Sea Grant
program. "The result would be fewer perch and walleye
in the lake," Reutter said. "The dominant species
would be the carp."
Asian carp eat up to 40 percent of their body weight
daily, grow up to 100 pounds and have no natural predators.
They are working their way up the Mississippi River, where
they have displaced other fish and now represent more
than five out of every 10 fish in the river.
Officials from the federal level on down want to contain
the fish so it does not cross into the Great Lakes through
the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the only direct link
between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. The
carp escaped from fish farms during floods.
The new fence would be a permanent barrier and would
reinforce a smaller demonstration fence built two years
ago, said Charles Shea, the corps' project manager who
was a guest speaker at a three-day Great Lakes conference
in Cleveland this week. The existing barrier is wearing
out. Its cables are corroding and one has failed, Shea
said. It was designed to last three to five years.
Planning is to finish this month and construction will
start in June, he said. The goal is to have the project
done by late September.
Workers will secure up to 50 steel rails to the bottom
of the channel.
Electricity will run through the rails. Like an invisible
fence for dogs, it is designed to make fish feel uncomfortable
with an unpleasant tingle that grows stronger as they
swim up the channel. The intensity will induce fish to
turn around. The current, however, will be safe for human
The corps will put $5 million toward the project and
the state of Illinois will put in $1.7 million.
The project was made a No. 1 priority for the corps earlier
this year after senators and representatives from the
Great Lakes states learned the agency planned to delay
the project for another year because of a lack of money.
The corps found the money in its budget.
The new barrier will have two separate sets of rails
so if power is lost to one set, the other set will remain
electrified. Each barrier will have a separate power source
as well as backup power in case of a blackout.