Vigilence still needed after no Asian carp found

Page one of Tuesday’s Mining Journal shows several photographs of the invasive Asian carp. One was of the fish in a controlled environment: the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. The other showed a multitude of carp, jolted by an electric current, jumping from the Illinois River near Havana, Illinois.

The latter photo looked like something from a sci-fi movie. Although it’s doubtful that scene will be re-created anytime soon, we don’t want it to happen years from now, either.

There was a bit of good news this week after a two-week search turned up no additional Asian carp in a Chicago waterway where a commercial fisherman captured a silver carp June 22.

The fish was discovered beyond an electric barrier network designed to prevent the carp from reaching the Great Lakes. The discovery was 9 miles from Lake Michigan.

Although officials don’t know the origin of the silver carp, they were certain its discovery didn’t mean other large numbers of Asian carp had gotten past the barrier.

Many carp varieties were imported from Asia in the 1960s to cleanse algae from sewage treatment facilities and catfish farms in the Deep South. Unfortunately, they escaped and spread up the Mississippi River and its tributaries. This has the potential for ecological disaster, as silver and bighead carp feast on plankton that other fish need. Silver carp also spring from the water when startled, acrobatics that present hazards to boaters.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes believes the discovery is a warning signal, while Illinois business groups oppose additional defenses installed at a lock-and-dam point in Joliet, Illinois, noting shipping would be disrupted.

There is a danger against being too complacent. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a USA Today article: “We need to know how the silver carp came so close to Lake Michigan and whether there are any additional carp in the area.”

Henry Henderson, director of the Midwest Program for the National Resources Defense Council, was quoted in the same article as saying Asian carp are like cockroaches.

“When you see one, you know it’s accompanied by many more you don’t see,” Henderson said.

Kevin Irons, aquatic nuisance species program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, told The Associated Press continuing efforts to thin Asian carp populations and block their path toward Lake Michigan are succeeding, and that the risk is “very low.”

Whatever the risk, the Asian carp situation bears close monitoring. It might not reach the level of havoc the invasive sea lamprey wrought, but it should be stressed that once that level is reached, it’s nearly impossible to undo.

Mining Journal (Marquette)