Asian carp are inching closer to Lake Michigan at an alarming rate. A recent study, conducted by the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, revealed the invasive species were found in the Illinois River near the city of Seneca. Wildlife officials said the discovery is concerning — as the fish are 12 miles closer to Lake Michigan than previously thought.
The term Asian carp refers to a number of fishes, including bighead carp, black carp, grass carp, silver carp, and large-scale silver carp. Although they are all native to Asia, the fish were imported to the United States and have become “highly invasive species.”
As reported by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Asian carp are filter feeders. Essentially, the fish strain fresh water and collect suspended particles — which they consume.
In the 1970s, bighead and silver carp were imported to the United States and used to filter water in catfish farm ponds and wastewater treatment plants. Although they provided a natural, and seemingly safe, means of cleaning the water — they eventually made their way to other waterways, including lakes and rivers throughout the southeastern US.
@greybeard0205 Asian carp are found in abundance in portions of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers pic.twitter.com/BGCDdsKjUC
— Eliana რ (@Elianasp2425) October 27, 2015
Although they are not native to the United States, the Asian carp thrived and began breeding and migrating at a disturbing rate. Scientists are specifically concerned, as the invasive species are endangering the ecosystem and the established food chain.
This is a significant issue for the Great Lakes, as Asian carp could threaten a number of native species.
As discussed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, “Great Lakes sport and commercial fisheries are valued at $4.5 billion dollars annually, without including the indirect economic impact of those industries.”
In an attempt to prevent a negative impact on the ecosystem, and the local economy, three electrical barriers were installed on Chicago waterways — which lead directly to Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether the barriers will actually prevent Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.
— Ag is America (@agisamerica) October 26, 2015
As reported by USA Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned the fish will be pulled into the lake in the wake created by barges.
Although there is no evidence that it has happened yet, a study conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, which built and maintains the barriers, suggests it could become an issue as the fish migrate closer to the great Lakes.
Last week, the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee announced two silver carp were caught in the Illinois River. Although they were small, the Asian Carp were 12 miles closer to the barrier than previously thought.
The data prompted lawmakers to urge President Obama to take “immediate action” to prevent the invasive species from reaching Lake Michigan.
As reported by Detroit Free Press, the lawmakers have proposed the possibility of “physically separating Lake Michigan from those Chicago-area waterways where carp could spread.”
Although the solution may be the most effective, it would cost an estimated $18 million.
Despite numerous efforts to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes, researchers have found some evidence suggesting they are already there.
According to the Michigan DNR, environmental DNA suggests bighead and silver carp have already made their way into Lake Michigan. Similar studies have found bighead and silver carp eDNA in Lake Erie.
Although “the presence of eDNA doesn’t indicate a breeding population has been established,” it does indicate the fish are present in the areas where the water was tested.
Wildlife officials estimate only “10 to 15” are required to “establish a new population” of the invasive species.
Senator Debbie Stabenow said the current data indicates the situation is dire. The senator said she will “continue to urge” officials to take the necessary steps to prevent Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.
[Image via Shutterstock/Esteban Miyahira]