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Asian Carp

The Great Lakes system affects our lives in various ways. Not only does this water system affect people, it has an impact on the natural environment as well. The weather, climate, wildlife and habitat are all affected by this arrangement of five lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, and Erie. The lakes are huge and powerful, however they are very fragile when it comes to being mistreated. The ecosystem has been placed under stress in the past, and we now realize the importance of protecting and preserving our lakes. Years ago, a species of carp were brought into the United States to help our lakes, and now they run the risk of destroying them. Asian carp are a species of fish native to Siberia and China, but they were imported by fish farms in the southern United States to control algae and snail population. In the early 1990’s, aquaculture facilities in the southern United States were flooded and the carp escaped into the Mississippi River and spread into northern rivers. The carp moved north becoming the most abundant fish in some areas of the Mississippi river, triumphing over native fish and bringing hardship to the people who fished the river. The carps’ domination over the Mississippi is reason for concern in the Great Lakes region growing concern in the Great Lakes; the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal connect the Great Lakes to the Mississippi. Last month, a survey was taken that found Asian carp only 55 miles south of our very own Lake Michigan. Unless the Asian carp are deterred, they will infiltrate our great lakes, potentially bringing disastrous effects to the entire region.
   
Asian carp are a serious threat to the Great Lakes for a number of reasons; the primary concern being that they would become the dominant species after they enter the system. Asian carp can grow to the enormous size of four feet and weigh as much as 100 pounds. Their massive size results in a large appetite as well. In addition to this, Asian carp are a fast breeding species; upon entering the great lakes, it is likely that the carp will become the overwhelming majority of the fish population. Female carp carry up to one million eggs, allowing for this species to easily replace the local fish. These fast-growing Asian carp are not easy to get rid of. While smaller fish are scored and sold easily, this species of large fish are harder to process and score because their bones are big and difficult to remove.

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This leaves a very small market for Asian carp, consumers expect their fish to be boneless and are hesitant to buy otherwise. It is also likely that the carp will enjoy living in the waters of the great lakes due to their native habitats in the Eastern Hemisphere; they are accustomed to the cold-water climate of the Great Lakes and would be comfortable living there. Once in the system, the carp would create fierce competition for food, and possibly dominate over the sport and commercial fish that are valuable to the people living near the Great Lakes.
   
Carp are primarily filter feeders, meaning they eat a variety of small animals, zooplankton, and plant plankton. These forms of plankton serve as a food base for all of the other native fish; while the environmental impact the carp will have is unclear, it is certain that they will impact the native fish due to competition over food. Many sport fish, including bass, crappie, and shad rely on plankton for food, especially early in their life cycles. This results in larval fish not only competing with the carp for food, but also running the risk of being eaten as well. Asian carp can eat up to 40 percent of their body weight in vegetation, zooplankton, or native fish each day. In addition to threatening the fish, these fish also pose as a menace to recreational boaters and their boats. Asian carp have the ability to launch themselves as much as ten feet vertically into the air and then jumping 20 feet horizontally. Most fish with this capability weigh five to fifteen pounds, not 100. When a fish of this magnitude hits a person or boat, it is grounds for very severe damage.
  
In an effort to prevent the Asian carp from invading and causing havoc, an electronic barrier was built across a canal that separates Lake Michigan from the Mississippi river. This barrier cost more than one million dollars and activists are continuing their request for federal money in order to install improvements such as a backup system of power. While some may argue that this is too costly of an operation, it is necessary to protect our Great Lakes.  The barrier is constructed of cables along the bottom of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that send electric currents up through the water. These waves of electricity discourage the fish from crossing through into Lake Michigan. However, there are a few concerns. It is uncertain whether the barricade will be able to stop larvae from floating through the canal. If it doesn’t stop the larvae from crossing the canal, the problem with carp will continue to exist. The strength of the electrical current is also being questioned; if the current is too weak the fish will not be affected, and if the current is too strong, it will stun the fish. A stunned fish could possible float through the canal and recover on the other side of the barricade. This is a second way that the barrier will fall short of its intentions. Besides the barrier, Asian carp find their way into the great lakes in various other ways as well. Fishermen who unknowingly pick up small carp to use as bait later deposit them in different waterways can contribute to the further spread of the Asian carp. Carp travel in numerous means, each mode of transportation needs to be recognized and evaluated in order to prohibit their invasion.

While Asian carp were originally brought to the United States to help control certain aquatic populations, they have now become a factor that threatens the very survival of great lakes fish. They cannot be allowed to spread into the great lakes region. These large fish have a large appetite and will devour the plankton that serves as food for all small fish. Native fish will not be able to compete with the enormous Asian carp and will, not only, be threatened by starvation, but also run the risk of being consumed. Once in our lakes, these fast-growing fish may potentially dominate our waters and over-compete the local fish. In addition to endangering other animals, the Asian carp pose as a threat to boaters and boats with their tendencies to leap out of the water on random occasions. Asian carp are too big a fish; they have to potential to cause serious disaster by leaping out of the water.  Some argue that there is too much concern since no one is sure what type of effects these fish will have on our environment. It has been suggested that the efforts to prevent the carp from moving into the great lakes are overly cautious and unnecessary; however, the proper precautions need to be taken just in case. The well being of the great lakes is too big a risk to run, once the carp invade the system, there will be no chance of correcting the problem. An electric barrier has been constructed in order to prevent the infiltration of Asian carp into Lake Michigan and further spread to waters in the surrounding lakes. While the barrier is not a guaranteed protection, it is the beginning step in protection from the invasion of Asian carp.





                           Work Cited

Asian Carp Invasion: Fish farm escapees threaten native river fish,
communities, and boaters as well. (n.d.) Retrieved on February 14, 2004,
from http://www.lib.niu.edu/ipo/oi020508.html

Asian Carp Poses Threat to Great Lakes Ecosystem. (n.d.) Retrieved on
February 15, 2004, from http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/

Giant Asian Carp Lurk at Doorway to Great Lakes. (July 15, 2002). Retrieved
on    February 15, 2004, from
http://www.greatlakesdirectory.org/zarticles/071502_asian_carp.htm
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