July 12, 2012

Asian Carp Spread Towards Great Lakes, Officials Concerned

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Experts are predicting a decline in native fish populations and researchers are scrambling to find ways to ward off the spread of an invasive aquatic species originally brought to the U.S. to cleanse aquaculture ponds and sewage treatment lagoons, according to recent wire service reports.

The culprit is the Asian carp, originally imported decades ago, which have managed to escape during floods and have since spread to more than two dozen states, AP Environmental Writer John Flesher said in a Thursday report.

They appear to be en route to the Great Lakes, as they have been spotted just 55 miles south of Lake Michigan and experts have even found their DNA in Chicago, just six miles away from the lake. Likewise, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Biologist Ron Brooks told Flesher that they can be found in tributaries of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

The concern is that the spread of the Asian carp could have an adverse impact on the populations of native fish species, John Chick, an aquatic ecologist with the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) told the AP. Flesher reports that research has demonstrated that the invasive fish are quite capable of altering ecosystems and forcing out other types of fish.

However, Flesher says, "the worst-case scenario scientists expect to unfold hasn't yet been realized," which has led to some speculation that the "dire predictions" about the potential damage caused by the carp could be "premature." So researchers have been busy, and a massive amount of time, energy, and resources have been dedicated to learning more about the Asian carp, as well as finding ways to limit the possible ecological affect of their presence.

"Government agencies have spent more than $150 million on technology to repel the invaders, including an electric barrier in a Chicago-area canal linking Lake Michigan with the carp-infested Illinois River," according to the AP. "Five states are suing the federal government to blockade the canal, which would take years and cost billions. Shipping and tour boat groups say that step would be as ruinous to them as Asian carp would be to the fishing industry."

"This kind of research gives an early warning and justification to do everything possible to keep them out," Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, told Flesher. "The more understanding you have of what makes these fish tick and what's happening in the ecosystem where they've already invaded, the closer you get to maybe discovering ways to get them under control."

Furthermore, a joint American and Canadian team is expected to release the findings of an 18-month study into the possible risk presented to the Great Lakes by the Asian carp.

While some experts have doubts that the lakes are warm enough and home to enough food to support the carp populations, most believe that they could find suitable conditions in bays and tributaries, as well as near shorelines, if they manage to become entrenched in the area, the AP reporter explained.

"Calculating damage from Asian carp is slow and often frustrating work, thanks in part to the ever-changing nature of rivers," Flesher said. "Fluctuating water levels, nutrient runoff and temperatures also affect fish numbers. But researchers are working to solve the mystery before the fish proliferate in the Great Lakes, determined to beat the clock and prevent the feared disaster damage."

Even so, he says that, to date, researchers have been unable to find any "smoking-gun evidence that Asian carp will devastate other fish."