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There’s a Mighty Threat making its way to our Great Lake

Nora Zacharski, OEC Energy Intern, August 30, 2018

For many people, going to the lake is a treasured summer ritual. Long days of swimming, fishing, boating, and relaxing with family and friends create memories that we recall fondly during chilly winter days. But for those who live near or visit Lake Erie, days by the lake could be cut short due to the increasing threat of Asian carp.

Asian carp are an invasive species that were originally brought to the United States in the 60’s and 70’s in order to control algae and aquatic vegetation in ponds and sewage treatment plants. The idea was that carp would mitigate these issues and keep the waterways clean. But, the carp found a way to escape in the early 90’s when heavy flooding in the Mississippi River Basin created temporary access to several waterways, including the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers. These fish have been swimming north ever since.

There are four main types of these invasive Asian carp—Silver, Bighead, Black and Grass carp.  Asian carp can weigh well over 100 pounds each and feed mostly on filtration plants like zooplankton and phytoplankton, making them a severe threat to food webs.

Silver carp have a tendency to startle easily and leap out of the water, which can cause serious injury to fishers and boaters. In fact, all species of Asian carp, with the exception of the grass species, are listed as ‘injurious’ species.

In addition to disrupting recreation activities, the main threat Asian carp pose is disrupting an already fragile ecosystem. They will compete with native fish like yellow perch, which serve as food for lake predators like trout and walleye. They also compete with small but important fish, such as minnows and sport fish. Asian carp can eat up 40 percent of their body weight each day.

These issues are exacerbated by the fact that currently, the Asian Carp has no predator. Female Asian carp can produce up to a million eggs each year. Although white pelicans and eagles have been spotted eating small juvenile Asian carp, the fish often grow so quickly that they are too big to be eaten by predators. Beyond the ecological effects, Asian Carp could also devastate the economy. Lake Erie recreation and tourism bring in around $15 billion annually, and supports more than 120,000 jobs. Needless to say, if the fish cause the lakes to collapse, it will certainly have a ripple effect.

In an effort to control and eradicate Asian Carp, ODNR has published a Tactile Plan. The main goals for this process are

  • Preventing Bighead and Silver Carp from becoming established in Lake Erie
  • Preventing Bighead and Silver Carp from being introduced to parts of the Ohio River watershed that are closed and have pre-existing barriers to natural immigration through tributaries
  • Stop Grass Carp from becoming established in Ohio
  • Teach Ohioans to identify Bighead, Silver, and Grass Carp and ensure they are educated on how harmful these fish can be

ODNR is working hard to close Ohio’s connections to the Lake Erie watershed, but more needs to be done in the Chicago Area Waterway System and with urgency. Asian carp (silver and bighead) are just 9 miles from entering Lake Michigan. Currently electric dispersal barriers are the only prevention method between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan. The barrier uses an electric field to repel fish from swimming upstream. When they swim too far into it, they are stunned and then float back downstream. Unfortunately, smaller carp can still make their way through the barrier.

This is why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) must move quickly to take intermediate steps at Brandon Road Lock and Dam. Call Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and your U.S. House of Representative today (202-224-3121) and tell them to ensure the USACE moves quickly to put in place intermediate measures at Brandon Road Lock and Dam. Also convey to them the USACE must move quickly to develop a plan for a permanent solution. The fate of the Great Lakes are at stake.