To those unfamiliar with lake ecology, a fish does not seem like the kind of thing that could endanger the Great Lakes; however, Asian Carp are doing just that. The set of species known collectively as Asian Carp were brought to North America in the 1970s for aquacultural and sewage treatment purposes. As with many such experiments, the introduction did not go according to plan. Since introduction, Asian Carp have spread the entire length of the Mississippi River, to a number of its tributaries, and now threaten to take hold in the Great Lakes. In 2007, the species were declared invasive by the United States Department of the Interior and are now being monitored by other United States and Canadian agencies.
The two primary aspects that make Asian Carp so dangerous to their non-native ecosystems are their mobility and diet. The Asian Carp’s ability to leap out of the water give them a distinct advantage when it comes to expanding territory. This ability allows them to not only leap over natural barriers, but also man-made ones. In 2010, Asian Carp penetrated an underwater electric fence that was put in place to keep them from spreading from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. They have also injured recreational boaters as flying fish collide with passengers on fast boats.
Without their appetite, the spread of these fish would not be of such great concern. Asian carp are veracious eaters, and their food of choice are the plankton that are at the base of the food chain. Asian Carp can grow to be 80 to 100 pounds and consume 40 percent of their body weight each day. This, in turn, is harmful to less aggressive native species, namely smaller fish and the young of larger fish.
Luckily, biologist report that most invasive species fail to take hold. We may be at an advantage against the Asian Carp since they have been detected before establishing a reproducing population. While not completely successful, the electric barrier between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan has contributed significantly to their containment. Those who enjoy fishing are being encouraged to focus their efforts on Asian Carp. The fish are reported to have a good taste and produce a substantial amount of meat. Food and Water Watch, which as traditionally been very critical of the fishing industry, also backs focusing on the Asian Carp as a food source.
More information on this issue is available through the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee