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OREGON, OH – Official Panel Discusses Efforts to Control Invasive Asian Carp

May 3, 2010

James Schardt of the USEPA Great Lakes National Program office. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

This past week, the Great Lakes Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species met at Maumee Bay State Park to discuss collaborative efforts to control the invasive aquatic species, Asian Carp. The gathering of over 40 representatives from both U.S. and Canadian natural resource agencies was part of a rapid response action that began in December 2009 to prevent further migration of Asian Carp into the Great Lakes Basin. The migration of this species has been recognized as a serious economic threat, which was exacerbated while repairs were being made to an electronic barrier fence near the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal about 30 miles south of Lake Michigan over the last year.

Controlling invasive species is one of five major focus areas of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Action Plan, which President Obama proposed $475 million for in February 2009. The GLRI is the effort between the current administration, the U.S. EPA and 15 other federal agencies prioritizing the restoration of the Great Lakes.

As stated in the section of the GRLI Action plan, progress toward restoring the Great Lakes has been significantly undermined by the effects of non-native aquatic, wetland, and terrestrial invasive species. More than 180 aquatic nuisance species (ANS) now exist in the Great Lakes. The most invasive of these reproduce and spread, ultimately degrading habitat, out-competing native species, and short-circuiting established food webs.

According to Catherine Hazelwood of The Ocean Conservancy, ballast water discharges by large ships are believed by many to be the leading source of invasive species in U.S. waters, thus posing public health and environmental risks, as well as significant economic cost to industries such as water and power utilities, commercial and recreational fisheries, agriculture, and tourism. Cruise ships, large tankers and bulk cargo carriers use a tremendous amount of ballast water, which is often taken on in the coastal waters in one region after ships discharge wastewater or unload cargo, and is then discharged at the next port of call, wherever more cargo is loaded. Ballast water discharge typically contains a variety of biological materials, including plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria. These materials often include non-native, nuisance, exotic species that can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic ecosystems. Studies suggest that the economic cost just from the introduction of invasive species to U.S. aquatic ecosystems is more than $6 billion per year. Ever hour, over 200 million gallons of ballast water is released into U.S. waters while over 3,000 marine species travel around the world via ballast water on a daily basis.

Because of this particular problem, the U.S. Coast Guard is now engaged in establishing a set of performance standards for the quality of ballast water discharged in U.S. waters. While the effort is ongoing, the Great Lakes Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species had established a binational consensus to recognize the ballast water problem with regard to the particular needs of freshwater basins back in March 2001.

While the shipping industry is indisputably the largest contributor to the problem of invasive species, they weren’t the cause of the initial invasion of Asian Carp in the U.S. The introduction of the species to North American ecosystems occurred first during the 1970s in the Deep South, when they were imported to clean the muck from fish farms. With a flood, they escaped into the wild and have migrated throughout Midwestern river systems. However, while Great Lakes states are demanding that navigational locks allowing ships to travel between the Mississippi waterway and Lake Michigan remain closed to keep the carp out, the barge industry has challenged this position, stating that even a temporary closure would destroy thousands of jobs and cripple regional commerce. With 20 million tons of cargo traveling though the Chicago area each year, the barge industry is creating an ultimatum between damaging their business or ruining the Great Lakes fishing industry, along with irreparable ecological damage.

The U.S. Forest Service voicing their opinion at the meeting. Photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

It is a consensus represented by the agencies on the Panel that if Asian Carp enter the Great Lakes, then the impact on the food web, commercial and recreational uses of the lake will be devastated. Asian carp have few natural predators and can grow up to four feet long and weigh 100 pounds. They reproduce several times a year and out-compete native fish for food. To make matters worse, they blindly leap up to eight feet out of the water at the whining sound of high-speed propellers, and have been recorded to injure boaters.

Carp have been cultivated in aquaculture in China for over 1,000 years. Largescale silver carp, a more southern species, is native to, and is cultivated in Vietnam. Grass, silver, bighead and black carp are known as the “Four Domesticated Fish” in China and are the most important freshwater fish species for food and Chinese medicine. Bighead and silver carp are the most important fish, worldwide, in terms of total aquaculture production. Common carp and crucian carp are also common foodfishes in China and elsewhere.

The Erie Wire will provide continued coverage on these issues. Read our article on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan. This article is part of the Water Quality Series.

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