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Great Lakes Article:

Fish find worrisome for Great Lakes
By Jen Horsey
Canadian Press
12/22/03

A worrisome fish discovered in Lake Ontario again has raised the spectre of invasive species in Canada as authorities across the country struggle to keep various imported pests at bay.

Toronto conservation officials doing a routine survey of the fish population at the mouth of the Don River recently discovered a grass carp.

The large, grey fish with black-edged scales is one of four invasive Asian carp species authorities fear could upset the delicate ecology of Canadaís Great Lakes.

"All those things we value most about the Great Lakes could, and would, change if invasive species continue to become established," warned Nicholas Mandrak, a research scientist with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

None of the four Asian carp-grass, bighead, silver, and black-are believed to have become entrenched, but authorities are on alert for a full-blown assault.

"Itís a lot easier to deal with invasive species by preventing them from being introduced in the first place because itís much more difficult to control them after theyíve become established," said Mandrak.

Ballast-water monitoring and an electrical barrier that repels fish in a canal connecting the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan are just two initiatives in place to protect the lakes against invasive species, he said.

Conservation authorities hope this latest grass carp was on its own-perhaps released into an area waterway by would-be diners who purchased it at a local market but opted not to eat it.

The long-term effects of invasive species on the native environment are impossible to predict, authorities say, but there already have been some awful surprises.

In the Great Lakes, the zebra mussel is being blamed for a fatal botulism outbreak that has swept through waterfowl species. Early research has indicated birds pick up the toxin when they eat fish that feed on the infected, fingernail-sized mollusks.

The mussels are believed to have arrived from foreign waters as stowaways in the ballast water of seafaring freighters.

"Undoubtedly there will be additional negative impacts that we have not foreseen," said Mandrak.

Grass carp have been discovered previously in the Great Lakes-the first in 1985 in Lake Erie. Commercial fishing nets have since captured three others in 1989 and 1998 in Lake Huron, but each is believed to have been an isolated occurrence.

Several bighead carp also have been discovered in the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes (the black carp and silver carp have yet to make an appearance).

Even the seemingly innocuous goldfish-another carp variety-is making a mess of our native water systems.

"We couldnít guess, not realistically, the damage these species are doing," said Bill Beamish, a University of Guelph professor. "Itís huge."

The grass carp, for example, has an aggressive habit of ripping through underwater vegetation and reproducing quickly-threatening the food and habitat of native wildlife.

And various agencies now spend $25 million-$30 million each year to control sea lampreys, said Beamish.

The lampreys - known for clinging to other fish and literally sucking the life out of them - originally arrived in Canadian waters in the 1960s through the newly-opened St. Lawrence Seaway.

Canadian waters arenít the only trouble spot.

Across the country, authorities are shredding native forests in an effort to contain multiple-front invasions of such pests as the Asian longhorn beetle, the emerald ash borer, and the brown spruce longhorn beetle.

Of the 441 species listed at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, about two-thirds can attribute their decline to invasive species, said Mandrak.

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