|FYI — February 2003|
|By Brad Dunn|
As exotic species go, the Asian Carp is threatening to do to Lake Michigan what zebra mussels have been doing to the country's waterways for a decade now: move in, take over, and wreak havoc. And everyone, from commercial fishermen to recreational boaters, is fighting to keep them out.
The big, ugly fish, known for their nervous habit of jumping out of the water when boats approach, were accidentally released into the southern Mississippi River about ten years ago, according to the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission (GLFC). Since then they have spread upstream like a virus, devouring resources and destabilizing local food chains. At presstime the large colony of unruly swimmers were only 40 miles from Lake Michigan, according to the GLFC.
Asian Carp, which can grow to four feet long and weigh up to 100 pounds, are a significant threat because of their size, fecundity, and ability to drive competing species out of their established habitats. "I haven't seen this kind of fear in the people who fish the Great Lakes in a long time," says Marc Gaden, communications officer of the GLFC.
Experts say if the fish, dubbed the underwater lawn mower, enters the Great Lakes, it would likely become a dominant species and displace many others, including the yellow perch and walleye bass.
How do you stop them? Federal officials have installed an electric barrier at the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which connects the Illinois River to Lake Michigan. The barrier emits underwater signals that make the fish feel uncomfortable if they get too close. Of course, the barrier rattles all species of fish--native and foreign--but scientists say it won't pose negative side effects. Since the canal is man-made, no natural spawning migrations occur there anyway. The Environmental Protection Agency says boaters can also help keep the Asian Carp, as well as other dangerous foreign species, out of the Great Lakes by making sure they don't bring them in accidentally, either as bait or as unintended stowaways.
Though the threat of the colony looms, the measures taken have worked so far. A few Asian Carp have been caught in Lake Michigan, but no large groups have been detected yet.
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This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.