Photo by Robert Taylor
This was an actual test. But only a test. Like those emergency tones you hear on your TV when a storm is approaching. Officials in Ontario, Canada, think the possibility of a live Asian carp invasion via truck is real. People have been caught trying to bring the invasive fish to the Toronto fish market, as we reported earlier. Threats like this have Ontario officials working on ways to contain a spill, should one occur. They recently came up with a plan. But is it just a matter of time before this happens? Is this plan responsive enough, and what other plans are there throughout the Great Lakes basin? According to information from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, officials in March held a "tabletop exercise" to test how various agencies would respond if an accident in southwestern Ontario caused a truckload of live Asian carp to be dumped in a river. Such exercises are usually used to practice for things like natural disasters or influenza outbreaks, which tells you something.
As explained in a document about that exercise:
"The Great Lakes are one of the world's most important natural resources—holding one fifth of the world's fresh surface water, home to more than 150 species of fish, and vital to the economy of Ontario and neighbouring U.S. states.
But several kilometres from Lake Michigan lurks a threat that could change the Great Lakes forever. The fish known as Asian carp could wipe out native fish species, devastate sport and commercial fisheries, and cause far-reaching changes to the Great Lakes ecosystem."
Ontario officials fear that Asian carp could spread in the Great Lakes just like they did in the Mississippi River basin, crowding out native fish.
There's been some speculation that the worst of the species, bighead and silver carp, wouldn't survive long should they get past an electric barrier near Chicago and into Lake Michigan, in part because other invasive species have already screwed up that lake's ecosystem. Other experts think the fish could perhaps survive in Lake Erie, on the other side of Michigan.
"We think that a scenario like this one is a real possibility," a Ministry spokeswoman says of the truck spill. "It's illegal in Ontario to possess, sell or import Asian carp and other live invasive species, but we know that people are still trying to bring live Asian carp across the border."
The Ontario tabletop, done in conjunction with the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, simulated an incident where Asian carp get into Ontario waters to test if the agencies involved are ready to respond quickly and effectively (and identify vulnerabilities). Of course, it's easier to do this across a table than in real life, but you get the picture.
The scenario: An accident on a bridge over the Thames River in southwestern Ontario has caused a truckload of live Asian carp to be dumped in and near the river, which leads into Lake St. Clair.
The response: Local Ministry of Natural Resources staffers "would place nets upstream and downstream to catch and identify fish in the river, test the fish to find out if they could reproduce, and confirm if the river habitat was suitable for Asian carp," according to Ontario officials.
"The agencies involved also had to decide if any local species at risk might be harmed by the control measures, and keep governments, partners, the public and the media informed."
Photo by Tomas Fano
Besides the nets, another tactic is to use an electrical current to shock the fish so that they come to the surface. Then the Asian carp could be identified and removed, and native fish and endangered species released.
Perhaps, however, there should be a larger focus on the threat and control of invasive species in general, rather than the red herring of Asian carp, as some have observed. The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee recently released a 2011 Monitoring and Rapid Response Plan for Illinois waters which employs some of the same tabletop techniques.
More on Asian Carp
Asian Carp Study Largest Since Reversal of Chicago River
Illinois Spending $2M to Ship Asian Carp Back to China
U.S. Asian Carp Czar Says Poison, Genetic Engineering Among Solutions
Asian Carp Solution for the Great Lakes? Bring on the Pelicans!
Interview with Lindsay Chadderton, Who Discovered the Asian Carp DNA