Asian Carp Issues

Asian carp have no natural predators and are able to produce 2.2 million eggs in their lifetime. This, combined with the fact that they feed on the bottom of the food chain, poses tremendous threats to native fish and the economies depending on those fish. The problem became apparent in 1999, when the Mississippi River flooded. After a flood, it is normal to see dead fish washed up on the banks. After this flood, however, thousands of dead fish were found, and all of them were silver carp.

Although Asian carp were originally only found in the southern part of the Mississippi, they quickly traveled north to the Missouri and Illinois rivers.  The Illinois Natural History Survey speculates that bighead (and possibly silver and grass carp) is doubling in number every year6, and all those fish are believed to be headed straight toward the Great Lakes.  There is a man-made access point to the Great Lakes from the Illinois River called the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal where fish swim freely back and forth.  The commercial fishing industry, tourism, and the safety of all boaters will be threatened if the carp indeed make it into the waters of the Great Lakes. 

Catching carp is not as simple as baiting a hook and casting a line.  Because carp feed on tiny animals or plants, they can’t be caught in the traditional way.  Netting and even the poison rotenone have been deployed in efforts to capture the troublesome fish, but neither of these methods has proven successful.

Another problem lies with what to do with the carp once they are caught.  People don’t want to eat them, so even if they were caught and processed, Americans don’t seem to be excited about seeing Asian carp on restaurant menus any time soon.

Some have questioned the carp’s ability to survive in the colder waters, but according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Ashley Spratt, the Great Lakes are the perfect breeding ground. In fact, they could multiply until they outnumber all other native species.3  The ecosystem in the Great Lakes has already suffered much under the attacks of exotic animals, making it home to 130 endangered species.  

The presence of a $7 billion dollar fishing industry brings a human element into the equation as well.3  The commercial fishing industry has already been hit in Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois due to the overpopulation of carp.  If the same were to happen in the Great Lakes, the effects would be devastating.