Asian Carp In Great Lakes: Local Fishermen Not Pleased With Increased Breeding

By Ben Wolford on October 29, 2013 3:28 PM EDT

Asian carp have reproduced in the Great Lakes, threatening to destabilize the fishing industry.
Asian carp have reproduced in the Great Lakes, threatening to destabilize the fishing industry.

Asian carp have finally reproduced in the Great Lakes watershed, the U.S. Geological Survey announced this week, a bad omen for a local fishing industry terrified of an Asian carp invasion.

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Other invasive species, like Burmese pythons in the Everglades or the Frankenfish in Central Park, do a lot of ecological harm but don't bother most humans. The Asian carp is not only threatening the Great Lakes' $7 billion fishing industry, these fish can actually be a safety hazard.

That's because they jump high out of the water when they're scared. And they aren't small. It doesn't take much to scare them, either, just a boat engine, as seen in this YouTube video. "An established Asian carp population also could threaten Great Lakes recreation, as silver carp are known for leaping out of the water at the sound of boat or jet-ski motors, causing physical harm to people and property," writes the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee.

Worse, no predators in North America can kill them when they're fully grown. Scientists say that once they spread across the Great Lakes, it will be nearly impossible to drive them back into the rivers, streams and retention ponds where they now reside. (Americans brought them here in the first place to clean up algea in the 1960s.) Once inside the Great Lakes, the carp will embark on a feeding frenzy, devouring massive amounts of plankton, stealing the food supply from small fish at the bottom of the lakes' food chains.

"If grass carp become abundant in Lake Erie, they may threaten native fish populations and could be detrimental to ducks, geese or other large aquatic birds," the U.S. Geological Survey says.

Considering all of that, the federal government has spent nearly $200 million on electric fencing to block the fish from getting in through Great Lakes tributaries, the Associated Press reports. And in Fort Wayne, Ind., the state Department of Natural Resources installed a 1,500-foot fish net across a marsh. Some say even more should be done before it's too late.

This new discovery announced Monday was a blow to the government scientists working to contain them. In October 2012, a commercial fisherman captured four grass carp in the Sandusky River, which flows into Lake Erie. Although that particular species isn't too much of a threat, its presence and reproduction confirms that many species under the umbrella-term "Asian carp" will be able to spawn there, too. The more Great Lakes tributaries that are hospitable to reproduction, the more likely they are to spread into the lakes.

"It's bad news," Duane Chapman told the AP. "It would have been a lot easier to control these fish if they'd been limited in the number of places where they could spawn. This makes our job harder. It doesn't make it impossible, but it makes it harder."

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