Asian Carp Fever Grips Great Lakes, Monster Invasive Fish May Already Be Here

Asian Carp
Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Asian carp, a monstrous, invasive fish, has been knocking at the door of the Great Lakes for decades. Now bad news is spreading that the fish may have breached an electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, entering Lake Michigan.University of Notre Dame researchers have found DNA evidence of a breach.

Here's what's at stake: The native fish population in the Great Lakes, the world's largest source of surface freshwater, which touches lives in the United States and Canada, and a $7 billion sport fishery.

Asian carp could multiply rapidly in the Great Lakes, gobbling up food and habitat that native fish depend on. This is like anthrax combined with swine flu when it comes to threats. If the carp has made it to the lakes, the water bodies could turn into a monoculture, a playground for the big fish, which grow to be up to 4 feet long and tip the scales at 100 pounds.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes, National Wildlife Federation and other groups have declared an "Asian Carp Emergency," calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Illinois to close all gateways and locks leading to Lake Michigan. The canal is used by barges to haul cargo.

"If we don't close the locks, we are waving the white flag and allowing one of the
greatest ecological tragedies to occur," said Jennifer Nalbone, campaign director
of Invasive Species and Navigation for Great Lakes United.

"If the Asian carp make it to Lake Michigan, the damage to fisheries in the lakes and tributaries will be profound and irreversible."

Oh, and the fish also can jump out of the water and break your jaw or nose.

The Army Corps says a rapid response team has jumped into action since the news, but some fear it may be too little, too late.

In a strange coincidence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is getting ready to start taking proposals for funding from a $475 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which aims to, among other things, address invasive species in the lakes.

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