Threatens Fish Supply in Great Lakes
ABC News online
The 4-foot-long, 70-pound Asian carp - known along the Mississippi
River as the "jumping fish" - grow agitated at the sound
of motors and leap out of the water, enabling anyone with
strong arms and a big net to literally catch them right
out of the air.
On the shorelines of Lake Michigan - and in fishing
harbors all along the five Great Lakes - thousands of
fisherman are worried they may soon be angling for fish
that are amazingly simple to catch.
Despite the comical imagery, there is a serious problem
- no one wants the Asian carp in the Great Lakes. It really
doesn't belong in America at all.
"I haven't seen this kind of fear in the people who
fish the Great Lakes in a long time," says Marc Gaden,
the communications officer of the Great Lakes Fishery
Commission that looks after the fishery in eight states
and two Canadian provinces.
The fear comes from the carp's voracious appetite. They
feed on the bottom of the food chain, and once they are
in a body of water there is not really room for many other
fish. Plus, they breed at an incredible rate.
"If the Asian carp gets into the Great Lakes we're in
serious trouble," says Dennis Schornack, the American
chairman of the Great Lakes International Commission.
"We'd see a $4½ billion fishing industry go down
the tubes," he said, referring to the combined American
and Canadian commercial fishing industry.
No Room for Other Fish
If fishermen are afraid along the Great Lakes, it's
because they have learned lessons from those who live
along the Mississippi River. The bottom-feeding Asian
carp were imported in the 1980s by Arkansas fish farms
and were supposed to clean up catfish ponds.
But with the floods of the 1990s, the carp escaped into
the Mississippi River and began their swim north. They're
in the Illinois River now and just 30 miles from Lake
Michigan - and on their way, they ate everything.
Right now, the only thing keeping the carp at bay is
an underwater electrical barrier on the Chicago Shipping
and Sanitary canal that connects the Illinois River to
Lake Michigan. The government has just decided to add
a backup generator to the barrier to reinforce it in case
the carp decide to swim north during a power failure.
Dennis Schornack hopes that might be enough to keep
the carp south but "the odds are getting slimmer and slimmer
that we can stop them," he said.
A Chance to Halt Havoc
Right now, few people eat the carp, although the fish
is considered a delicacy in Asia. That may present yet
another problem for the Lakes. Chicago on Lake Michigan
and Toronto on Lake Ontario have "live" fish markets where
they sell the carp. And there is an Asian custom of buying
two live fish and setting one free. Marine biologists
believe that the small number of Asian carp found so far
in the Great Lakes originated in stores.
The Great Lakes are vulnerable, as there are now more
than 100 so-called "alien invasive" species creating havoc
with the fish native to the waters.
But those species are usually only noticed too late
after they have already spread out through the waters.
This time, they have a chance of keeping a species out.
But Gaden of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission concedes
that "once the Asian carp enter the lakes there's very
little chance we'll be able to do anything about them."