Charter boat captains of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are making a stand against what they feel is the imminent arrival of silver and bighead carp (Asian carp) into their fresh water territories. If the carp does enter into the Great Lakes system, the fragile ecosystem will, for all times, change. We’re not talking about zebra mussels here. Or the round goby. We’re talking about an occurrence akin to the arrival of the sea lamprey into Lake Erie in 1921.
That unnatural disturbance of the fresh water ecosystem proved to nearly decimate fish populations, including lake trout and whitefish. If it were not for chemical lampricides targeted at lamprey larvae in their nursery tributaries, the epidemic would have had far more disastrous effects. Today, the fear is that if the Asian carp makes its way past the Chicago River, we would be facing a similar sort of catastrophe, and this time there will be no lampricides to defeat the invader.
Now, a growing number of Great Lakes enthusiasts are calling on Congress and other decision makers for the separation of watersheds to halt any further movement of the Asian carp. It has been determined that we are now in crisis mode – a make or break situation. If the Asian carp gains any more ground, there will be disastrous and irreversible effects.
“While we are pleased with the steps taken so far to prevent Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan, it’s not enough. We need permanent solutions as fast as possible,” said Captain Denny Grinold, Owner of Fish N Grin Charter Service in Michigan. “We keep hearing Congress is getting Asian carp fatigue, but our livelihoods depend on keeping these invasive fish out of the Great Lakes and the only fail-proof solution is separating the two watersheds.”
Currently, there are three electrical barriers located on the Chicago River. These are being utilized as one-way barriers to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, small fish – including Asian carp – can become caught between barges and transported across the electric barriers, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Recently, Congress approved funding for alterations at Brandon Road Lock & Dam. While an important step, these upgrades will take up to ten years to complete and are ultimately half measures at best that will fail to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan.
“Asian carp jumped 66 miles last year,” said Captain Guy Lopez, Owner of Wild Dog Tackle and Good Guyde Service in Illinois. “We cannot watch our livelihood be edged out because Asian carp invade the Great Lakes. We need Congress to require the Army Corps to permanently separate Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.”
Asian carp can grow up to four feet long. In order to sustain that growth, they have voracious appetites, which would wreak havoc on Lake Erie fish populations, including perch, bass, and walleye. Not to mention the leaping ability of the silver carp, which is known for its uncanny ability to jump out of the water and hit boaters mid-flight.
Global biological invasions, including the potential carp invasion of the Great Lakes, could cost an estimated $1.4 trillion per year in damages – 5 percent of the global economy.
“The cost of not restoring this natural divide is too high to the region, to be ignored,” said Captain John Sim, Owner of Chante Boat Charters in Ontario. “If Asian carp invade the Great Lakes, they could devastate a $5 billion fishing industry and leave my colleagues and I, who depend on the health of the Great Lakes for our livelihoods, out of business.”
Lake Erie provides more fish for human consumption than all of the other Great Lakes combined.
“Invasive species are bad for business and bad for the environment. Once Asian carp arrive, it will be almost impossible to remove them and they are not waiting on Congress to take action,” said Dave Spangler, vice-president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. “Last year on Lake Erie, charter boat captains lost thousands of dollars worth of business from harmful algal blooms and the effects on our businesses will only worsen with the addition of Asian carp.”
“We know from experience that aquatic invasive species have devastating impacts on the Great Lakes all the way down the St. Lawrence River. Preventing future invasions is crucial to protect our waters,” said Captain Matt Heath, owner of Seaway Charters. “Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin have invested time and resources to close their connections, and it’s time we finally shut the front door to keep Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.”
Lead image: Bighead carp