Carp Attack! Beware of the Invasive Asian Carp

(Images via: Isiria, CBS News, Tree Hugger, CBC)

If you’ve ever spent some time fishing, chances are you’ve hooked a carp, which some may refer to as a garbage fish, junk fish or oversized goldfish. While carp may not be as appealing as bass, trout, crappie, catfish and other keeper fish, they often provide a worthy fight on the other end of the line. If you’ve never had the luxury of encountering a carp due to a lack of fishing experience or simply little interest in the sport, it’s still likely that you’ve become more familiar with carp – specifically the dreaded Asian carp – in the New Year. The possible infiltration of Asian carp in the Great Lakes has garnished many headlines in recent weeks and put this weird-looking fish under a bright spotlight extending from the Midwestern United States all the way to the White House.

What’s All This Fuss about the Asian Carp?

(Images via: M Live, Arbroath, University of Missouri)

In January, Asian carp DNA was discovered in Lake Michigan, setting off alarms of this fish potentially or already making its way into the Great Lakes (HOMES: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Eerie and Superior). Why is this is a big deal? Well, an Asian carp is what’s known as an invasive species. What does this mean? Well, an invasive species is one that tends to dominate an ecosystem, pushing out less sustainable species in the process. In case of the Asian carp, this fish is hardly a predator but more of a garbage disposal that feeds on almost anything, specifically plankton that smaller fish often use for food. With the Asian carp rapidly reproducing, reaching up to four feet long and maintaining a voracious appetite that can tip the scales at 100 pounds, wildlife experts are thus concerned about this fish wreaking havoc on the Great Lakes’ ecosystem and making it hard for trout and other fish to find food and survive. Also interesting and frightening, Asian carp can launch themselves out of the water when startled, making them dangerous, free-falling objects to fishermen on boats.

Where Did the Asian Carp Come From?

(Images via: Gillhams Fishing Resorts, Outdoor Alabama, Flickr)

As the name suggests, Asian carp are from Southeast Asia and China. In the 1970s, Asian carp – specifically the bighead carp and silver carp – were introduced in the Southern United States to clean out the bottoms of ponds overwhelmed with algae and other vegetation. With flooding, the Asian carp eventually made their way into the Mississippi River, where they grew and reproduced quickly. Slowly but surely, the Asian carp have been making their way northward, with the recent discovery of Asian carp DNA in Lake Michigan setting off a firestorm of debate among legislators in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and other Midwestern states.

How Did Asian Carp Trickle All the Way to the White House?

(Image via: Chicago Tribune)

The Mississippi River connects to the five Great Lakes via the man-made Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which extends from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River. With the recent discovery of Asian carp DNA, the governors of Michigan and Wisconsin have urged that the canal be closed to prevent this fish from reaching the Great Lakes. However, Illinois legislators have refused to shut the canal, saying that doing so would have a detrimental economic effect on the state’s shipping industry and adding that an electrical barrier has already been built in the canal to prevent the spread of Asian carp. Despite more than a handful of Great Lakes states and even Canada seeking an injunction from the Supreme Court to shut down the canal (only to have their request denied), the issue made its way to the White House, which held the “Asian Carp Summit” earlier this week. From this great gathering, federal officials announced that $78.5 million would be allocated to curb the Asian carp invasion, including building new barriers between the Chicago canal and the Des Plaines River. According to some experts, these efforts are still not enough to stop Asian carp.

How Serious is the Asian Carp Issue?

(Images via: Flickr, M Live)

It depends on whom you ask. According to some researchers, the DNA discovery is enough on its own to worry that the Asian carp is making its way into the Great Lakes, a development that could signal the end of the Great Lakes ecosystem as we currently know it. According to other biologists, the Asian carp may not establish themselves for 20-25 years in the Great Lakes. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to follow this story during the coming months to see if any more Asian carp DNA is discovered or if an actual Asian carp is pulled out of Lake Michigan. If you find yourself fishing the Mississippi River, Illinois River or even the Great Lakes this spring, be aware of these telltale Asian carp signs. Asian carp (see the bottom image above) have a large mouth and eyes that are located low on their head, thus giving them a strange appearance compared to more conventional carp (see the top image above) that inhabit the freshwater bodies of the United States. For more information on the Asian carp invasion, see the following videos.