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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Flying Fish Invasion - Asian Carp & The Great Lakes

This invasion began in the 1970's and has grabbed the headlines as they move north and threaten one of the great ecosystems of the world, the Great Lakes.

The invaders; Asian carp.  These fish encompass several species of carp that are simply lumped together and collectively called Asian carp.  They are made up of grass, black, bighead and silver carp and can reach weights of 100 pounds.  They eat half of their body weight in food every day.  The plankton they feed on is at the very base of the food chain that native and commercially valuable fish depend on in the Great Lakes.  Introduce this much competition to the food supply and the result will be disastrous.

Originally introduced in the deep south to clean ponds and lagoons these carp soon escaped and found their way to the Mississippi River where they have been steadily working their way north.  Getting perilously close to Lake Michigan, electronic fish barriers have been set up to impede their migration.  Some experts feel that it's inevitable that they'll get into the Great Lakes, but the effort still must be made to slow or stop it's destructive invasion.

Besides being a threat to the ecosystem, Asian carp are dangerous to people and boats, both commercial and pleasure.  At the sound of an engine entire schools of these fish go into a panic and jump high out of the water like a crazed fish riot, injuring people and damaging property.  Most of us first saw this happening as a humorous attachment to an email, but since the initial production of that famous email these fish have become more numerous. 

The carp are prolific breeders with a long spawning season lasting from April to September.  They spawn multiple times during that period and from the amount of the biomass they make up in some tributaries of the Mississippi, they are very successful.  Estimates range up to 95% of the biomass in some sections of river are Asian carp.  The Upper Mississippi River drainage and the Great Lakes provide these carp with habitat that closely duplicates their native Asian range.

It's going to be expensive to keep these fish out of the Great Lakes.  $13 million has been earmarked by the federal government to finance the Army Corp of Engineers efforts to stop the carp, the Great Lakes States have also dedicated millions to try and keep these fish at bay.  Estimates range as high as $30 million dollars will be needed just in 2010 to keep the carp out of the lakes.

This six minute video on YouTube sums up the situation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oii4U3cQx_E&feature=player_embedded#