Asian Carp

Asian carp pose a serious threat to the health of our rivers and lakes, as well as the jobs that those waters support.

What are they and where did they come from?

  • The term “Asian carp” refers to four species of carp, three of which which pose a grave threat to U.S. lakes and rivers: Black carp, Bighead carp and Silver carp.
  • Bighead and Silver carp were imported to the Southeastern US to control algae in aquaculture ponds in the 1970s. They escaped and have spread throughout the Mississippi River basin.
  • Asian carp are now moving northward through the Mississippi River basin and are threatening to enter the Great Lakes through the Chicago Waterway System.

Physical Characteristics & Behavior

  • Bighead carp can grow up to 60 inches and 110 pounds.
  • Silver carp can grow up to 39 inches and 60 pounds.
  • Asian carp are voracious filter feeders, eating between 20- 40% of their body weight in a day.
  • Asian carp feed on plankton, the foundational food source for native species. By outcompeting native fish, Asian carp can disrupt the entire food web in a water body.
  • Asian carp are prolific spawners, spawning multiple times annually, with up to 1 million eggs per spawn.
  • Asian carp populations in the Upper Mississippi River are doubling every year.
  • According to USFW, Asian carp could colonize all of the Great Lakes and sustain high-density populations.
  • Silver carp can jump 10 feet out of the water, and are easily disturbed by watercraft, resulting in thousands of leaping fish around the vessel. This behavior has resulted in injuries to boaters and could diminish the appeal of recreational activities in carp-infested waters.

Canal Connection

  • The man-made Sanitary and Ship Canal connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes via the Illinois and Des Plaines River. Before this artificial canal was built, the basins were not hydrologically connected.
  • The Chicago Waterway System allows invasive species to move between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins.

Electric “Fence”

  • Currently, the last line of ANS defense is an electric barrier, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.
  • According to ACE lab tests, the electric barrier may not be effective in deterring smaller Asian carp - less than 6 inches. (see Cmar blog and other sources)
  • Increasing the voltage of the barrier could pose danger to barge traffic on canal.
  • Currently, the federal government is spending millions of dollars per year—$47 million in 2011— on a temporary, questionably-effective “solution.”

Asian Carp Past the Barrier

  • Asian carp DNA has been found in stretches of the canal beyond the electric barriers and in Lake Michigan.
  • In June of 2010 a live 20-pound carp was found in Lake Calumet, which is above the barrier, and open to lake Michigan.
  • New evidence (from what agency) indicates that Silver carp may be able to feed on Lake Michigan’s supply of Cladophora, a green algae. Cladophora could serve as a ready food source, allowing Asian carp to move through Lake Michigan and into the free flowing rivers of other Great Lakes states.

Industry at Stake

  • The Great Lakes fishery is a $7 billion per year industry
  • The Great Lakes are home to a $16 billion recreational boating industry
  • Waterfowl production areas are also at risk due to ecological disruption by ANS.
  • Hunters spending more than $2.6 billion annually in Great Lakes
  • Hunting, fishing, and wildlife observation generates approximately $18 billion in annual revenue in the Great Lakes region
  • Global biological invasions, including the potential carp invasion of the Great Lakes, could cost an estimated $1.4 trillion per year of damage – 5 percent of the global economy