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An Asian Carp Is Found in The Chicago Waterways, But the Government's Commitment to Science Has Gone Missing

Thom Cmar

Posted June 24, 2010

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The gaggle of state and federal agencies that have appointed themselves the “Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee” announced today that a live bighead Asian carp was found in Lake Calumet in the City of Chicago – only six miles away from Lake Michigan, with no locks or other barriers between it and the Great Lakes.

This is a big deal.  For months, defenders of the status quo have been yelling, “Show Me A Fish!” as a way to argue that aggressive action to protect the Great Lakes was not justified by the rapidly accumulating environmental DNA evidence that has told us for months that Asian carp are knocking on the door of Lake Michigan.  Now we have a fish…  and where there’s one, there are likely more

Asian carp are like cockroaches.  You are only actually able to see them when there are enough of them present that they start coming out of the woodwork.  So if one was caught yesterday using conventional fishing methods, there are likely many more out there that remain too elusive to be caught.

But this unsurprising discovery was not the only newsworthy information that was disclosed today by the agencies.

With no fanfare, the agencies disclosed today (as a mere aside during its briefings about the discovery of the fish) that there is no eDNA monitoring currently being done in the Chicago Waterway System, and no immediate plans to do so.  The Army Corps had a contract with the University of Notre Dame to conduct the testing, but earlier this month the contract expired.  During the Notre Dame team’s last sampling trip, on May 27, they obtained multiple positive eDNA hits near the Chicago Lock and Lake Shore Drive*** – indicating the presence of Asian carp on the doorstep of Lake Michigan.

The Army Corps never acted on these recent positive eDNA results, downplaying them as a single, isolated event.  And rather than take over the eDNA testing themselves, or find someone else to do the work, the Army Corps has apparently decided to put the eDNA testing on hold while it conducts its own “assessment” of its reliability. 

Meanwhile, the agencies continue to search for Asian carp using conventional fishing methods, like electro-shocking and netting, that the U.S. Government’s own carp experts have said do not work to catch Asian carp.  At what point will the agencies “assess” those methods, realize that their own experts say that they don’t work, and stop wasting millions of dollars of the people’s money?

The mismanagement of this situation has become scandalous.  What possible justification could the agencies have for not continuing the eDNA testing?  These tests have been the primary method by which we have been able to obtain useful scientific information about where Asian carp are likely present in the Chicago Waterway System – and in Lake Michigan itself (when the agencies have bothered to test there).  By stopping this testing, government agencies are putting their collective head in the sand in the face of continuing evidence that Asian carp are in the process of invading the Great Lakes.


*** Lindsay Chadderton, a member of the University of Notre Dame team, disclosed at a June 15, 2010 meeting of the Dispersal Barrier Advisory Panel that the May 27 sampling trip yielded eight positive eDNA hits for silver carp near the Chicago Lock.  Seven of the positive hits was obtained near the Lake Shore Drive Bridge, and one positive hit was obtained in the South Branch of the Chicago River.  The Army Corps had previously reported this sampling trip as yielding only one positive result.  When asked at the Advisory Panel meeting to justify why eight positive results had been reported as only one positive result, Colonel Vincent Quarles of the Army Corps Chicago District stated that he believed it was more accurate to report publicly that the eight positive eDNA results were only one positive result, because the eight positive eDNA were obtained on the same sampling trip in roughly the same location.***

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JessicaJun 25 2010 12:32 AM


I just have a question about the fish...

I have never even heard of Asian carp until now and I can't find any information online regarding their threat to people. Why is this becoming a huge deal?

Allison GruberJun 25 2010 05:57 PM

Thanks for the question, Jessica. The discovery of Asian carp in Lake Calumet a mere 6 miles from Lake Michigan has received so much coverage in the press because of the potential ramifications these fish could have if they establish a population in the Great Lakes. Asian carp pose such a significant threat to the Great Lakes because they would likely disrupt the Great Lakes food chain, outcompeting native fish for food sources with their "large size, ravenous appetites, and rapid rate of reproduction" ( In doing so, Asian carp, which having far less commercial value than native fish, would likely wreak havoc on the Great Lakes commercial, tribal, and sport fisheries, valued at more than $7 billion annually.

More than just the economic impacts and foreseeable job losses of fisherman, Asian carp are a risk to recreational users of the Great Lakes. These fish, some weighing in at as much as 110 pounds, are easily startled, such as by the sound of boat motors, which can cause them to “fly” as high as 10 feet out of the water. In doing so, Asian carp have been known to make contact with boaters, water skiers, and other recreational water users, sometimes causing serious bodily harm and damaging boating equipment. With an estimated 1 million recreational boaters enjoying the Great Lakes annually, the threat of flying Asian carp would significantly interfere with the multi-billion dollar recreational and tourism economies currently enjoyed by the Great Lakes states.

In addition, Asian carp have similar feeding habits to the zebra and quagga mussels that have already invaded Lake Michigan. Many scientists believe that these mussels are dramatically changing the Lake Michigan ecosystem, creating an environment at the lake floors that will breed pathogens like E.coli. As the freshwater Great Lakes serve as source of drinking water, the addition of Asian carp will only compound this problem which could detrimentally impact the drinking water supply of over 40 million people.

The voracious appetites of Asian carp, consuming as much as 40% of their own body weight in plankton daily, would likely disrupt the entire Great Lakes food chain. By out-competing the lower order members of the food chain, the Asian carp would deplete the food supply of higher-order fish like trout and, in turn, their predators, eagles and humans included. This disruption of the entire ecosystem would have incredible consequences for the fishing, recreation, and tourism economies of Great Lakes states.

These threats have manifested into a reality before- Asian carp have established sustainable populations in areas along the Mississippi River, causing many commercial fisheries to lose significant revenues (even forcing some to close) and deterring recreational users from enjoying the waterway.

Hope this helps to answer your question.

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